Tag Archives: Jacqueline Cochran

14 January 1936

Hoard Hughes with his record-setting Northrop Gamma. (Unattributed)
Howard Hughes with the record-setting Northrop Gamma. (UNLV Special Collections)

14 January 1936: Flying a Northrop Gamma 2G, serial number 11, which he had leased from Jackie Cochran, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course (Los Angeles, California, to New York) in 9 hours, 26 minutes, 10 seconds, at an average speed of 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour).¹ Most of the flight was made at altitudes of  15,000–18,000 feet (4,572–5,486 meters), and Hughes used supplemental breathing oxygen.

Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)
Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)

Jack Northrop had designed and built the Gamma as a long-range cargo and mail plane for Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. The contract was cancelled, though, and several airplanes became available to other customers. Jackie Cochran purchased s/n 11, which had been completed 15 August 1934, and had it modified by Northrop as a two-place long-distance racer for the 1934 MacRobertson London-to-Australia air race, which she planned to fly with her friend Ted Marshall.

The length of the Gamma varied from 29’10” to 31’0″, depending on engine and cockpit configuration. The wingspan was 48’0″.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine, 9 September 1934. (SDASM Archives)
The Northrop Corporation Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification for the MacRobertson Race, 29 September 1934. (The Northrop Corporation)
The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine. (SDASM Archives)

The Gamma’s original engine was replaced with a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Conqueror SGV1570F4 (also known as the Curtiss Conqueror), a DOHC 60° V-12 engine rated at 745 horsepower at Sea Level. The engine drove a two-bladed propeller. The Gamma had 7 fuel tanks: 3 in each wing and 1 in the fuselage. Total capacity was 486 gallons (1,840 liters) of gasoline and 29 gallons (110 liters)of lubricating oil. A second fuselage tank was later added, bring the total fuel capacity to 586 gallons (2,218 liters). The Gamma 2G had an empty weight of 4,727 pounds (2,144 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 8,037 pounds (3,646 kilograms). The modified airplane was inspected and a temporary commercial registration, NC13671, was approved 29 September 1934.

While being ferried to New York by Jackie and her new copilot, Royal Leonard, problems with the engine’s supercharger forced them to land in Arizona. Cochran continued east by airliner while Leonard and a Curtiss-Wright mechanic continued east in the Gamma. Flying on the night of 1 October 1934, a continuing problem with the supercharger forced them to make an off-field landing near Tucumcari, New Mexico, using light from dropped flares. The Gamma was seriously damaged and had to be returned to Northrop for repair.

Northrop Gamma 2G NX13761 after installation of the air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine. (SDASM Archives)

The airplane’s temporary registration was suspended. A section of the wing and the forward lower half of the fuselage were replaced, provisions for installing a Pratt & Whitney radial engine were made, and the rear cockpit was removed. (Cochran’s plans for the MacRobertson Race had to be revised,² so she had the airplane modified for the Bendix Trophy Race.) The repairs and modifications were completed 30 November 1934.

Jackie Cochran’s Northrop Gamma NX13761 after radial engine installation, photographed at Clemenceau, near Cottonwood, Arizona, circa 1935. (Ruth Reinhold Aviation Collection, Arizona Memory Project RRA-AMP107)

The “re-modified” Gamma 2G was now powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liters) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine with a three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The SA1-G was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). The engine could be ordered with a 3:2 or 4:3 gear reduction ratio.

Jackie Cochran flew the Gamma in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, but, approaching severe weather over the Grand Canyon, landed the airplane and did not finish the race.

The official ownership history of the Gamma is murky. The original application for a Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch license specified the owner as The Northrop Corporation. On 4 January 1935, Northrop’s registration was cancelled by the Department of Commerce because, “Aircraft not inspected for relicensing.”

Jackie Cochran with the Northrop Gamma 2G, circa 1936. Photographed by Toni Frissell.

When Jackie Cochran requested registration in her name, she failed to submit a Bill of Sale with her application. After repeated written requests by the Bureau of Air Commerce to submit a bill of sale went unanswered, her application for a restricted registration for the airplane was cancelled, 9 January 1936. J Carroll Cone, Assistant Director of Air Commerce (Air Regulation) informed her in writing: “The status of this aircraft is unlicensed and unidentified, according to our records. Any operation thereof would be in violation of the Air Commerce Regulations and subject the offender to the civil penalty provided therefor.”

Finally, a Bill of Sale from The Northrop Corporation, dated 30 November 1935, was provided to the Aeronautics Bureau. It said that Northrop had sold the airplane to Cochran, “for and in consideration of ten dollars ($10.00)”.

Meanwhile, Howard Hughes had seen the Gamma and wanted to buy it. Jackie Cochran tells how Howard Hughes acquired the airplane:

One night about 11:30 I was exhausted in my hotel room and the telephone rang. . .

“Jackie,” the voice says, “this is Howard.”

“Howard who?” I say, still sleepy and getting frustrated.

“Howard Hughes,” the man says.

“Howard who?” I ask again.

“Howard Hughes,” he repeats.

. . . We argued about who he was a bit more. Finally, he says, “I want to buy your airplane.”

I’m thinking that this is an incredible conversation. “It’s not for sale, Howard,” I reply. “I’m going to fly it in the Bendix.”

“I don’t want to fly it in the Bendix,” he answers. “I want to fly it cross-continental.”

“So do I,” I say.

Howard Hughes and I negotiated over the Northrop Gamma for about four weeks. . . Howard wanted my Northrop so badly, but it would break my heart to consider handing over my rights to it. . . when he offered to rent it, with an option to buy, I caved in. . . .

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, at 152–153.

When Hughes took possession of the Gamma 2G, he had the Pratt & Whitney engine replaced with a 1,823.129 cubic-inch (29.785 liter) Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-G5 nine-cylinder radial engine, and a three bladed-Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). The engine used a bell-shaped cowling similar to that of Hughes’ H-1 Racer. The engine had a Normal Power rating of 830 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m to 4,300 feet (1,311 meters), and 930 horsepower for Takeoff. This engine did not yet have government certification. Three additional fuselage tanks were installed, increasing the Gamma’s fuel capacity to 690 gallons. Hughes did not submit the Gamma for Department of Commerce inspection and licensing. It was not approved in the new configuration.

Jackie Cochran took the Gamma back from Hughes and had the Twin Wasp Jr. reinstalled, and submitted a new application for registration 31 March 1936. This was approved 28 April 1936, and the Gamma received a restricted registration, NR13761. It was damaged beyond repair after an emergency landing, 10 July 1936.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NR13761, at Newark, New Jersey, 14 January 1936. (UNLV Libraries Digital Collection)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13237

² With Northrop unable to repair the airplane in time for the MacRobertson Race, at the last minute Jackie Cochran entered with a different airplane (a Granville Brothers Gee Bee R-6H).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

29 December 1949

Jackie Cochran with her Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, Thunderbird, circa December 1949. (FAI)

29 December 1949: Jackie Cochran (Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve) flew her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Thunderbird, CAA registration N5528N, to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Class C-1 world speed records of 703.38 kilometers per hour (437.06 miles per hour)¹ and a U.S. National record of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour) over the 500 kilometer (310.7 mile) Desert Center–Mt. Wilson course in the Colorado Desert of southern California.

She would later be awarded the first of three Distinguished Flying Crosses for this series of flight records.

Left profile drawing of Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s unlimited class North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (Image courtesy of Tim Bradley, © 2014)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (FAI)

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased it from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart just ten days earlier, 19 December 1949.

According to Civil Aviation Administration records, the airplane had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no U.S. Army Air Corps serial number or North American Aviation manufacturer’s serial number. The C.A.A. designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.

Thunderbird had won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race with pilot Joe De Bona, after he had dropped out of the 1948 race. Its engine had been upgraded from a Packard V-1650-3 Merlin to a V-1650-7 for the 1949 race.

Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N with Joe De Bona’s race number, 90. (Unattributed).

Jackie Cochran set three world speed records with Thunderbird. In 1953, she sold it back to Jimmy Stewart. After changing ownership twice more, the P-51 crashed near Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, 22 June 1955.

The P-51B and P-51C Mustangs are virtually identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California, while 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 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 and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). 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).

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). 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.

According to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, “At the time of her death in 1980, Jacqueline Cochran held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history.”

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.)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4476 and 12323

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

17 December 1947

Jackie Cochran with her “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388, circa 1948. (Library of Congress)

17 December 1947: At Thermal, California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. Her average speed, after two passes over the course in each direction, was 663.054 kilometers per hour (412.002 miles per hour).

Cochran’s altitude over the record course was at Sea Level.

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

The airport at Thermal is 115 feet (35 meters) below Sea Level. During December, the daily high temperature averages 71.0 ˚F. (21.7 ˚C.). The airport was established as Thermal Army Airfield during World War II, but today is the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM).

A week earlier, 10 December 1947, Cochran set another record World Record, flying NX28388 over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). (FAI Record File Number 4478).

That record still stands.

For a series of six records set in her P-51, Jackie Cochran, who held a commission as a colonel in the United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Jackie Cochran's green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

NX28388 was the first of three P-51 Mustangs owned by Jackie Cochran. It was a North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang built at Inglewood, California in 1944. It was assigned NAA internal number 104-25789 and U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760. She bought it from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. The airplane was registered to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, Inc., 142 Miller Street, Newark, New Jersey, but was based at Jackie’s C-O Ranch at Indio, California. The Mustang was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the number 13 on each side of the fuselage, on the upper surface of the left wing and lower surface of the right wing.

NX28388 was powered by Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12, serial number V332415.

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, at Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, California, August 1946. Left profile. Color. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, at Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, California, August 1946. (Unattributed)

Jackie Cochran flew NX28388 in the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race and finished second to Paul Mantz in his P-51C Mustang, Blaze of Noon. Cochran asked Bruce Gimbel to fly the Mustang for her in the 1947 Bendix. There was trouble with the propeller governor and he finished in fourth place. In May 1948, Jackie set two more speed records with NX28388. Jackie and her green Mustang finished in third place in the 1948 Bendix race. She asked another pilot, Lockheed test pilot Sampson Held, to ferry the fighter back to California from Cleveland, Ohio after the race, but,

“. . . my plane crashed, carrying my associate, Sam Held, with it to his death.”The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 79.

NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing Sam Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B was the first production Mustang to be built with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was virtually identical to the P-51C variant. (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 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 and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). 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).

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM 9A02672)

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). 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.

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.)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

10 December 1947

Jackie Cochran with her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

10 December 1947: Near the Santa Rosa Summit in the Coachella Valley of southeastern California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). She set both a U.S. National and a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record.¹

This record still stands.

Jackie Cochran's green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 09.58.53

For a series of six records set in her P-51, Jackie Cochran, who held a commission as a colonel in the United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

NX28388 was the first of three P-51 Mustangs owned by Jackie Cochran. It was a North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang built at Inglewood, California in 1944. It was assigned NAA internal number 104-25789 and U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760.

Cochran bought it from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. The airplane was registered to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, Inc., 142 Miller Street, Newark, New Jersey, but was based at Jackie’s C-O Ranch at Indio, California. The Mustang was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the number 13 on each side of the fuselage, on the upper surface of the left wing and lower surface of the right wing.

NX28388 was powered by Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12, serial number V332415.

Jackie Cochran flew NX28388 in the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race and finished second to Paul Mantz in his P-51C Mustang, Blaze of Noon. Cochran asked Bruce Gimbel to fly the Mustang for her in the 1947 Bendix. There was trouble with the propeller governor and he finished in fourth place. In May 1948, Jackie set two more speed records with NX28388. Jackie and her green Mustang finished in third place in the 1948 Bendix race. She asked another pilot, Lockheed test pilot Sampson Held, to ferry the fighter back to California from Cleveland, Ohio after the race, but,

“. . . my plane crashed, carrying my associate, Sam Held, with it to his death.”The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 79.

NX28388 had crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing Sam Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. The airplane behind the Mustang is Tex Johnston’s Bell P-39Q, “Cobra II.” (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B was the first production Mustang to be built with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was virtually identical to the P-51C variant. (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 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 and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). 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).

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). 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.

Jackie Cochran with her “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388, circa 1948. (Library of Congress)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4478

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

3 December 1937

Alexander de Seversky and Jackie Cochran with the SEV-S1, 1937. (Cliff Henderson Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: CF_09-0044)

3 December 1937: Jackie Cochran flew a Seversky SEV-S1, R18Y,¹ a variant of the P-35 fighter, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, to Miami, Florida, in 4 hours, 12 minutes, 27.2 seconds.

On the same day, Александр Николаевич Прокофьев-Северский (Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky), the airplane’s designer, flew a second P-35-type airplane from New York to Havana, Cuba, in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 5 seconds.

The Miami Daily News reported:

. . . Jaqueline Cochran, 26-year-old New York woman flier, set a speed record of four hours and 12 minutes in a flight from New York City which ended at 3:21 p.m. yesterday at municipal airport. Averaging 278.13 miles an hour on her trip south, Miss Cochran beat the fastest time ever recorded either way between the two cities by eight minutes. That mark was set northbound by Howard Hughes. . .

. . . A New York-Havana non-stop flight record also was set yesterday when Maj. Alexander de Seversky flew the 1,350 miles in five hours and two minutes—two hours and one minute faster than Lieut. Commander Frank Hawks’ record of 1931. The new record-holder is expected to fly to Miami today.

Miami Daily News, Vol. XLII, No. 358, Saturday, 4 December 1937, Page 1, Column 8, and Page 2, Column 5

Jackie Cochran with the Seversky “SEV-S1 Executive,” X18Y, 1937. (Cliff Henderson Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: CF_09-0043)

“. . . Sasha [de Seversky] became convinced that I could win the big New York-to-Miami air race coming up. What better rebuttal could he have than to have his plane flown 300 miles per hour [483 kilometers per hour] over a measured, timed course and to have it all done by a woman? The Army Air Forces were canceling further orders because they saw the airplane as dangerously faulty and not up to the specifications they had ordered.

“Sasha installed an extra gas tank in place of a seat for me. It wasn’t very comfortable, but what was worse was that the plane had never been test-flown with a full load of gas. I took off and discovered that the center of gravity was somewhere in the nose. God, I nearly put that plane into the bay just south of what is now Kennedy Airport. It porpoised terribly for over an hour. . .

“I did get the nose up in time to avoid a swim, but until I burned out most of the fuel in the seat tank, I really had to hold on for a rough ride—up and down the sky. From Washington  D.C., on, the situation straightened out and I got the record Sasha wanted so badly. . . .

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 150–151.

On five different occasions I have landed after a speed flight with less than two minutes of fuel remaining and once—on a record flight from New York to Miami—my engine went dead just as my wheels touched the runway. This was because of a risk I had not considered. When I reached the destination, a squadron of Navy planes was in formation flight over the airport and I had to circle before landing.

The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 72.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-2S Executive, NR18Y. Note the passenger windows below and behind the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Seversky SEV-S1, R18Y, with Jacqueline (Jackie) Cochran in the cockpit. Note the passenger cabin, behind and below the cockpit. The airplane carries Frank Sinclair’s Bendix and Thompson Trophy race number 63 on the vertical fin. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog # 15_002036)

The SEV-S1 was a civil variant of Major de Seversky’s P-35A fighter, which was the U.S. Army Air Corps’ first all-metal, single-engine airplane with an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear.

Designed by Alexander Kartvelishvili, the airplane had originally been built as the Seversky II X, a single-place open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was powered by an  air-cooled, supercharged 1,666.860-cubic-inch-displacement (27.315 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division GR1670A1 Whirlwind, a two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. The GR1670A1 had a compression ratio of 6.75:1 and was rated at 775 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane aviation gasoline. 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).

The Seversky II X was reconfigured as two-place monoplane fighter to compete in a fly-off at Wright Field against the Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk and the Northrop 3A for the Air Corps fighter contract in 1935. The airplane was redesignated SEV-2XP and carried the registration mark X18Y.

The Seversky SEV-2XP X18Y in the two-place, fixed landing gear configuration. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_006753)

In mid May 1935, de Seversky was flying the prototype from the company’s Farmingdale, New York factory toward Wright Field, located near Dayton, Ohio. The airplane’s engine overheated and stopped. He made a forced landing at a small hilltop landing field near St. Clairsville, Ohio, during which the airplane was damaged. Several weeks were required to make repairs.

In the meantime, de Seversky had seen his competitors’ entries. Both were single place pursuits with retractable landing gear. He realized that his -2XP was completely outclassed.

The Curtiss-Wright Model 75, X17Y. This prototype would be developed into the P-36 Hawk and later, the P-40 Warhawk. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_008032)
The Northrop 3A, photographed 30 July 1935, the day it disappeared off the coast of southern California. No trace was found of it or the pilot, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_005638)

The prototype was once again rebuilt. It was now also a single-place airplane with retractable landing gear. Designated SEV-1XP, X18Y was initially powered by a 1,823.129 cubic inch displacement (29.876 liters) 860-horsepower Wright Cyclone, which was quickly upgraded to a Wright GR-1820G4. This was also a single-row, nine-cylinder radial engine. The G4 had a compression ratio of 6.45:1 and required 87-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 810 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m.for takeoff. The engine was 47¾ inches (1.213 meters) long, 54¼ inches in diameter, and weighed 1,210 pounds (549 kilograms). The SEV-1XP had a fuel capacity of 160 U.S. gallons (606 liters) and carried 15 gallons (57 liters) of lubricating oil.

Seversky SEV-1XP X18Y. (Seversky Aircraft Company)
Seversky SEV-1XP X18Y (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_006757)

In April 1936, X18Y’s engine was once again upgraded, this time to a Wright GR-1820G5, s/n 23233.

Major Alexander de Seversky with SEV-1XP X18Y. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #16_006759)

Another engine change came in January 1937. The Wright Cyclone was replaced by a Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-13, s/n 312. With the Twin Wasp, NR18Y’s designation was changed to SEV-S1. (Department of Commerce records continued to refer to it as SEV-1XP.) The -13 was a supercharged, two row, fourteen cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1, requiring 91/93-octane aviation gasoline. It had 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 Hamilton Standard propeller that had been used with the R-1820G5, which it drove through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-13 was 48.06 inches (1.221 meters) long, 59.25 inches (1.505 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,370 pounds (621 kilograms).

In August 1937, the R-1830-13 was replaced by a R-1830 SB-G, s/n 112. Again, the same propeller was used. The SB-G 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. 87-octane fuel was required. The SB-G had the same gear reduction ratio as the -13. It was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 55.48 inches (1.409 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,284 pounds (582 kilograms).

On 30 August 1937, the Seversky SEV-1XP was issued a restricted registration, R18Y. As it was then configured, it had an actual empty weight of 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,290 pounds (2,853 kilograms).

Frank Sinclair, Seversky’s chief test pilot, flew R18Y in the 1937 National Air Races, held at Columbus, Ohio. Sinclair’s race number, 63, was painted on the vertical fin. On 4 September, he finished the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank, California, to Columbus, in fourth place with a time of 11 hours, 2 minutes, winning a $2,000 prize. (Jackie Cochran flew a Beech Staggerwing in the Bendix, beating Sinclair and R18Y by 33 minutes.) Two days later, 6 September, Sinclair placed fourth in the Thompson Trophy pylon race. The Seversky averaged 252.360 miles per hour (406.134 kilometers per hour).

 The Seversky's passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-2S Executive, NR18Y. Note the passenger windows below and behind the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Seversky’s passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 27 October 1937, the Seversky’s registration reverted to X18Y.

Following an accident at Miami, 13 December 1937, the Department of Commerce suspended X18Y’s registration, noting “AIRCRAFT NOT APPROVED FOR RELICENSING”

It is believed that the prototype was scrapped.

¹ At that time, experimental and restricted category aircraft were prohibited from displaying the letter “N” at the beginning of their registration mark.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather