8 May 1929: Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew the prototype Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, to 11,930 meters (39,140 feet) over NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C. ¹ The record was certified by the National Aeronautic Association.
Lieutenant Soucek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement.
New Altitude Record Claimed
It is announced in Washington that Lieut. Apollo Soucek, U.S.N., claims to have created a new height record of 40,000 ft. on May 8. In the course of his flight he encountered a temperature of 60 deg. F. below zero. [-51 °C.]
—FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1064. (No. 20. Vol. XXI.) May 16, 1929, Page 405 at Column 2
Lieutenant Soucek set two other World Records with the XF3W-1 Apache. On 4 June 1929, with the Apache configured as afloat plane, he flew it to an altitude of 11,753 meters (38,560 feet). ² The following year, 4 June 1930, he flew the Apache to 13,157 meters (43,166 feet). ³
Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A7223, was a prototype for a single-place, single-engine fighter for the U.S. Navy. The XF3W-1 was a single-bay biplane with a fuselage constructed of steel tubing, covered with doped fabric. The wings were constructed of wood. It was 22 feet, 1 inch (6.731 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 4 inches (8.331 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). It had an empty wight of 1,414 pounds (641 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,128 pounds (965 kilograms). Only one XF3W-1 was built.
The XF3W-1 was designed to use the new air-cooled, supercharged 1,176.036-cubic-inch-displacement (19.272 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1200 Simoon 9-cylinder radial engine, which was rated at 350 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The R-1200 weighed 640 pounds (290 kilograms).
After taking delivery of the prototype, the Navy installed the number two Pratt & Whitney Wasp A engine. (The XF3W-1 was the first airplane to fly with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, 5 May 1926.) The Wasp A was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch displacement (22.021 liters) nine-cylinder radial direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 410 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline. The Wasp A was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) used the XF3W-1 for engine and cowling tests at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL), Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. Which engine was installed at the time of Lieutenant Soucek’s record flight is uncertain.
The XF3W-1’s engine was supercharged by a NACA Model 2E Roots-type supercharger, built by the Allison Engineering Company. This supercharger, serial number 1, is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.
The XF3W-1 was also configured as a float plane.
162 m.p.h., 38,560′
Apollo Soucek was born 24 February 1897, at Lamont, Oklahoma. He was a son of Bohemian immigrants, Johann Grothard Soucek, a blacksmith, and Ludmila Pishny Soucek. He had a brother, two years his junior, named Zeus.
Soucek received an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland. He entered on 9 June 1917 as a member of the Class of 1921. While at Annapolis, “Soakem” Soucek played baseball and football. In The Lucky Bag it was written, “When you want a man you can rely on and trust ’till there’s skating in Hell, just page old Soakem—he’s there with the goods.”
Midshipman Soucek graduated and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, with a date of precedence of 3 June 1921.
Ensign Soucek’s first assignment was aboard the New Mexico-class battleship, USS Mississippi (BB-41).
In February 1924, Ensign Soucek was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction. He was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1924. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as assistant flight officer aboard the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1).
Soucek was next transferred to Observation Squadron 1 (VO-1), Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard USS Maryland (BB-46), a Colorado-class battleship. He had collateral duty as the ship’s assistant navigator.
In 1925, Lieutenant (j. g.) Souceck served aboard USS Aroostock (CM-3), a minesweeper which had been converted to an aircraft tender, and in 1926, was assigned to the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadephia, Pennsylvania.
Lieutenant (j.g.) Soucek was promoted to lieutenant, 3 June 1927, and he began a tour of duty with the Bureau of Aeronautics, 29 June 1927. He specialized in engines in the Bureau’s Material Division.
Lieutenant Apollo Soucek married Miss Agnes Eleanor O’Connor at Washington, D.C., 27 May 1930.
In 1931, Lieutenant Soucek served with Fighting Squadron 1B (VF-1B). He returned to duty at the Naval Aircraft Factory in 1933.
In 1936, Lieutenant Souceck served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).
Souceck was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 June 1937, and was assigned as commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 2 (VF-2). In 1938, he returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, working in both the Flight Division and the Personnel Division.
In 1940, Lieutenant Commander Soucek served as navigator aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5).
Souceck was promoted to the rank of commander, 27 August 1941. He was assigned as Air Officer aboard the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8). When the carrier’s executive officer was promoted, Commander Soucek was assigned as Hornet‘s executive officer, serving under Captain Marc A. Mitscher. Hornet participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942; the Battle of Midway; and the Solomons Campaign.
Commander Soucek was promoted to the rank of captain (temporary), 20 August 1942, with date of rank 20 June 1942.
Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 27 October 1942. Captain Soucek was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle.
Captain Soucek next was as assistant chief of staff for operations, U.S Pacific Fleet, then the Naval Air Training Command. He was promoted to the rank of rear admiral (temporary), 23 July 1944. After the war, reverted to the permanent rank of captain, with the 23 July 1944 date of rank.
On 27 October 1945, Captain Soucek became the first commanding officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). He was appointed Commander, Carrier Division 14, in January 1946. He remained in command of Roosevelt until relieved, 2 March 1946.
After leaving Roosevelt, Soucek was assigned as Commander Fleet Air Wing 1.
From July 1947 through 1949, Rear Admiral Soucek was Commander, Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. In late 1949, he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Aviation Plans, and then, in 1950, Director, Aviation Plans, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
In 1951 Rear Admiral Soucek was appointed Naval Attaché for Air at the United States Embassy, London, England. His wife, Agnes, died that year.
Soucek returned to combat during the Korean War. In 1952, he commanded Carrier Division 3 and Task Force 77 from his flagship, USS Boxer (CV-21). He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
Rear Admiral Soucek became Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics, 18 June 1953.
In 1954, Rear Admiral Soucek became a member of the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution National Air Museum, serving without compensation.
Soucek suffered a heart attack in February 1955. Unable to return to full duty, he was transferred to the Retired List on 1 July 1955.
Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, died at his home in Washington, D.C., 19 July 1955. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
9 April 1951: Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record and National Aeronautic Association U.S. National Record on 9 April 1951, flying her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, to an average speed of 464.374 miles per hour (747.338 kilometers per hour) over a straight 16 kilometer (9.942 miles) high-altitude course at Indio, California.¹
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, 19 December 1949. It was painted cobalt blue with gold lettering and trim.
That same day, Jackie Cochran flew her new airplane to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a 500 kilometer Closed Circuit Without Payload, and a U.S. National Aeronautic Association record, with an average speed of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour).
Thunderbird had won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race from Rosamond Dry Lake, California, to Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio, with pilot Joe De Bona in the cockpit.
According to Civil Aviation Administration records, N5528N had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no USAAC serial number or North American Aviation serial number. The CAA designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
In 1942, soon after the first production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.
In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.
The P-51B and P-51C 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). 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 air-cooled 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.
6 April 1940: Flying her Seversky AP-7A, NX1384, Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and National Aeronautic Association speed record over a 2,000 kilometer (1,242.742 miles) course from Mount Wilson, California (northeast of Los Angeles) to Mesa Giganta, New Mexico (west of Albuquerque) with an average speed of 533.845 kilometers per hour (331.716 miles per hour).¹
The Seversky AP-7 was an improved civil version of the Seversky P-35 fighter, which was the first U.S. Army Air Corps single engine airplane to feature all-metal construction, an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. It was designed by Major Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky, a World War I Russian fighter ace.
Cochran’s AP-7A was a specially-built racer, modified from the original AP-7 with a new, thinner, wing and different landing gear arrangement. It was powered by a an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1B3-G (R-1830-11) two-row 14-cylinder radial engine rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton-Standard controllable-pitch propeller through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).
This is the same airplane in which Jackie Cochran won the 1938 Bendix Trophy Race.
24 March 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 9,160 meters (30,052 feet). She flew a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” serial number 164, registered NR18562.
A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.¹
“Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”
— The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Pages 61–62.
According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “. . . set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”
The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records. The Beechcraft D17W was a special version of the D17 production model. Only two were built. Jackie Cochran purchased it from Beech for $20,145, and it had been delivered to her by famed aviator Frank Hawks.
The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.
The airplane was 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and loaded weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).
While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The leading edge of the Model 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.
The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The standard Beechcraft D17S was equipped with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A, a nine-cylinder radial engine producing 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m at Sea Level. It had a maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour), 670 mile (1,078 kilometer) range and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).
The 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-G engine installed in Jackie Cochran’s D17W was an experimental version of the Wasp C with 5:4 propeller reduction gearing. It produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., up to 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The SC-G never entered production.
Beechcraft D17W c/n 164, was impressed into military service at Tarrant Field, Texas, 12 March 1943. Assigned to the United States Army Air Corps, it was given the designation UC-43K Traveler and Air Corps serial number 42-107277. It was turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 22 November 1944, for sale to the civil market. The airplane was now powered by a 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975-5 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial and was redesignated Beechcraft D17R. The Staggerwing was sold to the Carver Pump Company, Muscatine, Iowa, and registered NC50958.
The record-setting Beechcraft Staggerwing crashed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, 15 December 1945.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (28,743 feet), 6 March 1931.