Tag Archives: Harmon International Trophy

18 May 1966–20 June 1966

Sheila Scott in the cockpit of her Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY, Myth Too, 1966.
Sheila Scott in the cockpit of her Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth Too, 1966.

18 May 1966: Sheila Scott O.B.E., (née Sheila Christine Hopkins) departed London Heathrow Airport, London, England, on the first solo around-the-world flight by a British subject, the longest-distance solo flight, and only the third around-the-world flight by a woman. Her airplane was a 1966 Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, registration G-ATOY, which she had named Myth Too.

Sheila Scott had been a nurse at Haslar Naval Hospital during World War II. She was an actress on the stage, in films and on television. In 1959 she followed a lifetime ambition and learned to fly. She owned or leased several airplanes which she entered in races or used to establish flight records.

Scott was a commercial pilot, rated in single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. She was a member of The Ninety-Nines, founding and serving as governor of the British branch. She was also a member of the Whirly-Girls and the International Association of Licensed Women Pilots.

Sheila Scott was the author of I Must Fly and On Top of the World (Barefoot With Wings in the United States).

Sheila Scott's Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth II, after her around the world flight. The signatures on the wings and fuselage were collected at stops along the way.
Sheila Scott’s Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth Too, after her around the world flight. The signatures on the wings and fuselage were collected at stops along the way.

Departed London, England 18 May 1966
Rome, Italy
Athens, Greece
Damascus, Syria
Barhain
Karachi, Pakistan
Jaipur, India
Delhi, India
Calcutta, India
Rangoon, Burma
Butterworth, Malaysia
Singapore
Bali, Indonesia
Sumbawa, Indonesia
Darwin, Australia
Mount Isa, Australia
Brisbane, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Auckland, New Zealand
Norfolk Island
Nandi, Fiji
Pago Pago, Samoa
Canton Island
Honolulu, HI
San Francisco, CA
Phoenix, AZ
El Paso, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
Louisville, KY
New York, NY
Gander, Newfoundland
Lagens, Azores
Lisbon, Portugal
Arrived London, England 20 June 1966

The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.
The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom.

The flight covered approximately 31,000 miles (49,890 kilometers) and took 189 actual flight hours over 34 days.

During her around-the-world flight, Shiela Scott set ten Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Recognised Course: London to Rome, 258.13 kilometers per hour(160.40 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Numbers 4679, 4680); London to Auckland, 41.42 km/h (25.74 mph) #4660, 4661; London to Darwin, 45.67 km/h (28.38 mph) #4666, 4670; London to Fiji Islands, 34.60 km/h (21.50 mph) #4672; 4673; Lisbon to London, 244.00 km/h (151.62 mph) #4956, 4657. During her flying career, she set a total of 76 FAI World Records.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy (NASM)

For her accomplishments, Ms. Scott was awarded the Silver Medal of the Guild of Pilots; the Brabazon of Tara Award for 1965, 1966 and 1967; the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 1968; and the Harmon International Trophy for 1966.

Italy gave her the title, Isabella d’Este. Sheila Scott was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Years Honours List, 1 January 1968.

Sheila Scott flew around the world twice in Myth Too, and a third time in a twin-engine Piper Aztec, Mythre. She died of cancer, 20 October 1988, at the age of 61 years.

Myth Too was built by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1966 and was registered N8893P. It was a PA-24-260B Comanche, an all-metal 4–6 place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It is flown by a single pilot and can carry three passengers, though an additional two seats can be mounted at the rear of the passenger cabin.

The airplane is 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet (10.973 meters). Empty weight is 1,728 pounds (783.8 kilograms) and maximum gross weight is 3,100 pounds (1,406.1 kilograms).

The Comanche B is powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected 541.511-cubic-inch-displacement (8.874 liter) Lycoming IO-540-D4A5 6-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) horizontally-opposed engine with a compression ration of 8.5:1, rated at 260 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., driving a two-bladed Hartzell constant speed propeller through direct drive. The IO-540-D4A5 weighs 384 pounds (174 kilograms).

Cruise speed is 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The range is 1,225 miles (1,971.5 kilometers) and the service ceiling is 19,500 feet (5,943.6 meters).

Sheila Scott sold G-ATOY in 1975. It was substantially damaged 6 March 1979 when the engine lost oil pressure then seized after taking off from Elstree Aerodrome, Hertfordshire (EGTR). There were no injuries. The wreck is in the collection of the Scottish National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian, Scotland.

The wreck of Myth Too, Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY at the Scottish National Museum of Aviation. (Aviation Safety Network)
The wreck of Myth Too, Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY at the Scottish National Museum of Aviation. (Aviation Safety Network)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 May 1953

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200, on Rogers Dry Lake after the 100-kilometer speed run, 18 May 1953. (LIFE Magazine)

18 May 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew the 100th Canadair Sabre—a Sabre Mk.3, serial number 19200—over a 100 kilometer closed circuit and set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record at 1,050.18 kilometers per hour (652.55 miles per hour).¹

Jackie Cochran talked about it in her autobiography:

“. . . In those days you were clocked around pylons, with a judge and a timer at each pylon to clock you with special electronic devices and to make sure you stayed just outside the black smoke markers that rose into the sky. We’d throw a couple of tires on top of each other and then, when all was ready, start a smoky fire in the middle. Twelve towers of smoke marked the 100 kilometer for instance.

“The 100 kilometer course would take in about 63 miles. I’d have to fly only 300 feet off the ground in order for the photographic equipment to catch and record me. But there were hills to one side so I’d be skimming a little up and over them. I’d get two chances—just two—to set my record because that’s all the fuel the plane could carry. If all went well, I’d have a margin of two minutes of fuel after two complete passes. But could I hold that plane in a banked position of 30 degrees for a 63-mile circular flight and beat Colonel Ascani’s mark of 635 mph? Edwards pilots weren’t so sure. Opinions varied. And what about taking the ‘G’s I’d be experiencing in those sharp turns? One ‘G’ is the force of gravity, and the turns would offer me more than one.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy
Harmon Aviatrix Trophy

“None of those record runs entail easy flying—100 kilometer, 15, or 3. They’re possible when you’ve been taught by the best.”

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, at Pages 274–275.

Part of the speed run was in excess of Mach 1. Jackie Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Over the next two weeks, she would set three more world speed records ² and an altitude record ³ with the Canadair Sabre Mk.3. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy for 1953, her fourth.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, during her aviation career, Jackie Cochran set more speed and distance records than any other pilot.

Record-setting Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, s/n 19200.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.3 was a one-of-a-kind CL-13 Sabre (an F-86E Sabre manufactured by Canadair Ltd. under license from North American Aviation, Inc.) built to test the prototype Avro Canada Gas Turbine Division Orenda 3 engine. Modifications to the F-86 airframe were required to install the new, larger engine.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, May 1953. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Orenda 3 was an axial-flow turbojet engine with a 10-stage compressor, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (16.69 kilonewtons), a 15% improvement over the General Electric J47-GE-13 installed in the standard F-86E. The Orenda was 121.3 inches (3.081 meters) long, 42 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,650 pounds (1,202 kilograms).

Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer located at Cartierville, Montreal, Canada, owned by the American submarine builder, Electric Boat Company. Canadair also built licensed versions of the Douglas DC-4 (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) and the Lockheed T-33 two-place jet trainer. In 1954, the company became a part of General Dynamics.

After the speed records, No. 19200 was sent to North American Aviation for evaluation. Today, it is on static display outdoors at Wetaskiwin Regional General Airport (CEX3), Alberta, Canada.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB. (LIFE Magazine)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 13039, 13040

² FAI Record File Numbers 8870, 9075, 9076

³ FAI Record File Number 12858

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 April 1969

Turi Widerøe with “Atle Viking,” a 1957 Convair 440-75 Metroliner, LN-KLA, operated by Scandinavian Airlines System. (SAS)
Turi Widerøe with “Atle Viking,” a 1957 Convair 440-75 Metropolitan, LN-KLA, operated by Scandinavian Airlines System. (SAS)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)

30 April 1969: Turi Widerøe made her first scheduled flight as the first officer of a Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) Convair 440 Metropolitan. She was the first woman to fly for a Western airline.

Captain Widerøe earned her commercial pilot certificate in 1965 and flew the Noorduyn Norseman and de Havilland Otter for Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S, a regional air service founded by her father, Viggo Widerøe. In 1968 she joined SAS and completed the company flight academy in 1969, qualified as a first officer. She later was promoted to captain, and flew the Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 jet airliners.

The New York Times, in keeping with the sexist attitudes of the era, referred to her as a “svelte blonde” and made sure to include her physical dimensions: “. . . who has the height (just under 6 feet), the cheekbones and the long, shapely legs of a fashion model. . . her shapely statistics only in centimeters (98–68–100, which translates out to about 38½–26½–39). . .” ¹

In 1969, Ms. Widerøe was awarded the Harmon International Trophy “for the outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year.”

Turi Widerøe left SAS in the late 1970s following the birth of her second child. Her airline officer’s uniform is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Turi Widerøe was born 23 November 1937 at Oslo, Norway. She is the daughter of Viggo Widerøe and Solveig Agnes Schrøder. She studied at the Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole (the Norwegian National Academy of Arts and Craft Industry), graduating in 1958. She worked as a book designer and magazine editor, then as assistant manager of a mine in Troms.

Ms. Widerøe qualified for a private pilot license in 1962. After earning a commercial pilot license, she went to work for Flyveselskap A/S, though her father was initially opposed to her career change.

Turi Widerøe with a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter float plane. (Unattributed)

After leaving SAS, Ms. Widerøe went to work for NRK, the national radio and television broadcast service of Norway, as a program director.

In 1972, Ms. Widerøe married Karl Erik Harr, an artist. They divorced in 1975.

She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Oslo in 1998, and a second master’s from the University of Tromsø in 2006.

¹ “Svelte Blonde Is a Commercial Pilot,” by Judy Klemesrud, The New York Times, 16 February 1970, Page 40, Columns 1–4

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–15 March 1957

U.S. Navy ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561, “Snow Bird,” prior to departure at NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachusetts, 4 March 1957 (NASM)

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.”

CDR Jack R. Hunt, USNR, briefs the crew of Snow Bird prior to departure, 4 March 1957. (Flying Magazine)

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.

Goodyear ZPG-2. (U.S. Navy)

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.

Admiral Arleigh Burke

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.

ZPG-2 Flight Track (Flying Magazine)

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.

An AEW variant U.S. Navy Goodyear ZPG airship. (The Noon Balloon)

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.

N-class blimp N-1. Compare its fins to those of the airship in the background.

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

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.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 January 1951

Charles F. Blair, jr. arrives at Heathrow. (Getty Images)

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.

Mrs. Charles Blair Jr. (right) with her two children, Suzanne, 16, and Christopher, 10 months, get the news of Capt. Blair’s aafe arrival. (NEWS foto by Sam Platnik)

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.”

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., American Overseas Airlines.

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.

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. (Smithsonian Institution)

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 in the cockpit of “Blaze of Noon,” P-51C-10-NT Mustang 44-10947, NX1202. (Hans Greehoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, NASM-HGC-1100)
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX1202, now named “The Houstonian.” The modified fighter flew in the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race, finishing in second place. (NASM)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California, in the modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, NX1202. Salmon finished in third place. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

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).

North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, "Excalibur III", at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, “Excalibur III,” at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

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).

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

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.

Charles F. Blair, Jr.'s North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

A British PATHÉ news film of Blair’s arrival at London can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdRbIQdnyQo

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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