24 May 1948: Two days after setting two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World and U.S. National Aeronautic Association speed records with her P-51B Mustang, Jackie Cochran sets two more.
Flying her “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA, serial number 43-24760, civil registration NX28388, Cochran flew an average of 693.780 kilometers per hour (431.094 miles per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.371 miles) closed circuit, without payload, at Santa Rosa Summit, near Indio, California.¹
Jackie Cochran bought NX28388 from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. Cochran also flew the green P-51B in the 1946 and 1948 Bendix Trophy Races, in which she placed 2nd and 3rd. Her Mustang was flown by Bruce Gimbel in the 1947 Bendix race, placing 4th.
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).
The P-51B was the first version of the North American Aviation fighter to be powered by the Merlin engine in place of the Allison V-1710. Rolls-Royce had selected the Packard Motor Car Company to build Merlin aircraft engines in the United States under license. NX28388 was powered by a Packard-built V-1650-7, serial number V332415, which was based on the Merlin 66. It was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 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.) 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 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.
While being ferried back to the West Coast after the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race, NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing the pilot, Sampson Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.
21 May 1955: At 05:59:45 Pacific Standard Time (13:59:45 UTC) 1st Lieutenant John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, U.S. Air Force, a World War II B-17 pilot and former Prisoner of War, took off from the California Air National Guard Base at the San Fernando Valley Airport (re-named Van Nuys Airport in 1957). His airplane was a specially-prepared North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre, USAF serial number 49-1046. His Destination? Van Nuys, California—by way of Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. His plan was to return to the ANG base in “The Valley” before sunset.
Several weeks of planning and preparation were involved in “Operation Boomerang”. Five refueling stops would be required and Air National Guard personnel across the United States would handle that. A deviation from peacetime standards would allow the Sabre to be refueled with the engine running to minimize time spent on the ground. (The F-86 was not capable of inflight refueling.) The six-year-old F-86A was polished to ensure that all rivet heads were smooth, seams in the fuselage and wing skin panels were adjusted for precise fit, then were sealed. The gun ports for the six .50-caliber Browning machine guns in the fighter’s nose were filled then covered with doped fabric and painted. This was to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible. The General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet was overhauled, then tested and adjusted for maximum efficiency.
Arrangements for official timing of the West to East and Back Again speed run were paid for by North American Aviation, Inc., whose personnel also provided technical support to the Air National Guard.
Jack Conroy’s F-86A was nicknamed California Boomerang, and had a map of the United States and a boomerang painted on the fuselage. The Sabre remained in its overall natural aluminum finish but had green stripes on the fuselage, vertical fin and wings.
After takeoff, Lieutenant Conroy climbed to approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and headed to his first refueling stop at Denver, Colorado. He landed at 7:48 a.m. PST and the Sabre was refueled and off again in just 6 minutes. From Denver he continued eastward to Springfield, Illinois, arriving at 9:32 a.m. PST. Refueling there took 5 minutes. The next stop was Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. He touched down at 11:19 a.m., PST and remained on the ground for 39 minutes.
Conroy departed Mitchel Field on the westbound leg at 11:58 a.m. PST and arrived at Lockburne Air Force Base, Ohio at 12:58 p.m., PST. This refueling stop required 7 minutes. Next on the flight plan was Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airplane landed there at 2:26 p.m. PST, and was refueled and airborne again in 6 minutes. The last refueling took place at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lieutenant Conroy landed at 3:58 p.m., PST. After another 7 minute stopover, California Boomerang took off on the final leg of the round-trip journey, finally landing back at Van Nuys, California at 5:26:18 p.m., PST.
John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast “dawn to dusk” flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour). Weather across the country caused some delays as Jack Conroy had to make instrument approaches to three of the airports.
California Boomerang, North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, is on display as a “gate guard” at the entrance to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, adjacent to Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California.
20 May 1948: The first production North American Aviation, Inc., P-86A-1-NA, 47-605, made its first flight.
The P-86A-1-NA was very similar to the three XP-86 prototypes. As an operational fighter, its empty weight increased 347 pounds to 10,077 pounds. The Chevrolet J35-C-3 and Allison J35-A-5 engines were replaced with a more powerful General Electric J47-GE-1. The fighter’s maximum speed increased 74 miles per hour to 673 miles per hour at Sea Level.
The P-86 was unlike any airplane before it. (The designation was changed to F-86 the following month.) It was the first airplane produced with a swept wing. After analyzing World War II test data for the Messerschmitt Me 262, North American’s engineers designed a wing with a 35° degree sweepback to its leading edge. The wing sweep allowed high speed shock waves to form without stalling the entire wing. The wing tapered toward the tips, and its thickness also decreased from the root to the tip. In order to create a very strong but very thin wing, it was built with a two-layered aluminum skin, instead of ribs and spars, with each layer separated by “hat” sections. The thickness of the skin panels also tapered to decrease weight.
The wing incorporated leading edge “slats” which were airfoil sections that automatically extended below 290 knots, smoothing the air flow over the wing’s upper surface and creating more lift at slow speeds. Above that speed, aerodynamic forces closed the slats, decreasing drag and allowing for higher speeds. Effectively, the wing could change its shape in flight.
Like the XP-86, the P-86A was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). The empty weight was 10,077 pounds (4,571 kilograms), gross weight, 14,050 pounds (6,373 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).
The J47-GE-1 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single stage turbine. It had a normal power rating of 4,320 pounds of thrust (19.216 kilonewtons) at 7,370 r.p.m.; and military power, 5,200 pounds (23.131 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (30-minute limit).
The P-86A had an initial rate of climb 7,470 feet per minute (37.95 meters per second) and could reach 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. Its service ceiling was 48,000 feet (14,630 meters).
The Sabre was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns placed in the nose, with three on either side of the engine intake. These were lighter and had a higher rate of fire than the World War II AN-M2 machine guns. Ammunition containers had a capacity of 300 rounds, but normally they carried 267 rounds per gun. Early aircraft had small doors covering each gun port. They opened in 0.05 seconds but were difficult to keep properly adjusted, so they were soon deleted.
The airplane could also be armed with two bombs and up to sixteen 5-inch (12.7 centimeter) High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR) on underwing hardpoints.
North American Aviation built thirty-three P-86A-1-NAs. The U.S. Air Force ordered 190 F-86Bs, but these were cancelled in favor of the F-86A-5-NA.
The F-86A became operational with the 1st Fighter Group at March Air Force Base, near Riverside, California. In February 1949, a contest was held within the group to select a name for the new fighter. “Sabre” was chosen.
20 May 1941: North American Aviation, Inc., test pilot Robert Creed Chilton took the first XP-51 for its maiden flight at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. The XP-51 was the fourth production Mustang Mk.I built for the Royal Air Force, (North American serial number 73-3101) and assigned registration number AG348.
The Mustang was reassigned to the U.S. Army Air Force, designated as XP-51, serial number 41-038, and sent to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, for evaluation.
Later, the XP-51 was extensively tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A.) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia.
Today, the restored XP-51 is in the collection of the E.A.A. AirVenture Museum at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).
The Mustang was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The -F3R had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). It had a Takeoff and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., to 11,800 feet (3,597 meters). The engine turned a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).
The Mustang Mk.I had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters), the Allison’s critical altitude, and cruise speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).
The Mustang Mk.I was armed with four air-cooled Browning .303 Mk.II aircraft machine guns, two in each wing, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine.
The Mk.I was 30 m.p.h. faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine. Below 15,000 feet, the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had a more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.
The XP-51 would be developed into the legendary P-51 Mustang. In production from 1941 to 1945, a total of 16,766 Mustangs of all variants were built.
Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.
At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.
In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.
Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.
On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Republic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.
From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.
Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.
In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.
Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.
18 May 1953: On his last day of combat, Captain Joseph C. McConnell, Jr., a fighter pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, United States Air Force, flew two sorties in which he shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters, bringing his total to 16 aerial victories. He was credited with damaging 5 more enemy aircraft. McConnell was the leading American ace of the Korean War. He had scored all of his victories between 14 January and 18 May, 1953.
For his actions on this date, Captain McConnell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:
The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain Joseph McConnell, Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Pilot with the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Korea on 18 May 1953. Leading two F-86s on an air superiority mission over North Korea, he sighted a formation of twenty-eight MIG-15 type aircraft. Determined to accomplish his mission and with complete disregard for the numerical odds against him, he immediately attacked. Although under fire himself, he pressed his attack to such extent that he completely disorganized the enemy formation, destroying one of the MIGs and damaging another. Several enemy aircraft were then firing at him but, seeing that the other Sabre in his flight was also being fired upon, he completely ignored enemy cannon fire directed at himself and destroyed the MIG that was pursuing his wingman. These victories, in spite of counterattacks by such superior numbers, completely unnerved the enemy to the extent that they withdrew across the Yalu before further attacks could be made. Through his courage, keen flying ability and devotion to duty, Captain McConnell reflected great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Forces, and the United States Air Force.
During his combat tour in Korea, McConnell flew at least three North American Aviation F-86 Sabre jet fighters: an F-86E and two F-86Fs. He named the airplanes Beauteous Butch, after his wife’s nickname.
On 12 April 1953, after his eighth kill, he was himself shot down by another MiG-15. He ejected from his second Sabre, F-86F-15-NA 51-12971, and parachuted into the Yellow Sea where he was rescued by a Sikorsky H-19A Chickasaw helicopter from the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, based at the island of Chŏ-do.
His last airplane, F-86F-1-NA 51-2910, was painted with 16 red stars and Beauteous Butch II following the last mission. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.
Of air combat, Captain McConnell said, “It’s the teamwork out here that counts. The lone wolf stuff is out. Your life always depends on your wingman and his life on you. I may get credit for a MiG, but it’s the team that does it, not myself alone.”
Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was born 30 January 1922 at Dover, New Hampshire. He was the second child of Joseph Christopher McConnell, a barber, and Phyllis Winifred Brooks McConnell. Mrs. McConnell died in 1931.
After graduating from high school, Joseph McConnell enlisted in the Medical Corps, United States Army, at Concord, New Hampshire, 15 October 1940. He had enlisted for the Philippine Department. Private McConnell was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for training. McConnell was 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and weighed 134 pounds (6o.8 kilograms).
In 1941, McConnell married Miss Pearl Edna Brown at Fitchburg, Massachusetts. They would have three children, Patricia Ann, Kathleen Frances, and Joseph Christopher McConnell III. McConnell called his wife “Butch.” He explained the not-so-flattering nickname by saying that she was, “the butcher of his heart.”
In 1943, McConnell was selected as an aviation cadet, and was trained as a navigator. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 18 September 1944.
Lieutenant McConnell was assigned to the 448th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Seething (Army Air Force Station 146) near Norwich, Norfolk, England. The 448th was equipped with B-24 Liberator bombers. McConnell flew as navigator on 60 combat missions.
Following World War II, Lieutenant McConnell remained in the Army Air Force. In 1946, he was assigned to pilot training. He graduated from flight training at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, and received his pilot’s wings 25 February 1948.
Lieutenant McConnell deployed to the Republic of South Korea in September 1952, and was assigned to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing.
Captain McConnell returned to the United States 24 May 1954. After meeting with President Eisenhower in Washngton, D.C., he was assigned to the 435th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, based at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California. The squadron was equipped with the F-86 Sabre. (The former air base is now the Southern California Logistics Airport, VCV.)
The community of Apple Valley, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southeast of George AFB, donated a two-bedroom house and an acre of land (0.4 hectare) to Captain McConnell and his family, as a sign of its appreciation. The house was constructed in 45 hours. ¹
In the summer of 1954, Captain McConnell was temporarily assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, 35 miles northwest of George, to evaluate the new North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter bomber.
On 25 August 1954, McConnell was flying F-86H-1-NA 52-1981, the fifth production airplane, performing an aerobatic function check. About 20 minutes into the test flight, McConnell radioed to Edwards that he was experiencing flight control problems, and had to use elevator trim adjustments to control the Sabre’s pitch attitude. He reported that he planned to make an emergency landing on the dry lake bed.
Witnesses reported seeing McConnell eject from the F-86H at about 500 feet (152 meters) above the surface. His parachute did not open. Captain McConnell was killed. The fighter bomber flew on for about one-half mile (0.8 kilometers) before it crashed at approximately 1:00 p.m., local time.
Investigators found that two bolts in the horizontal stabilizer control system had not been properly fastened and had fallen out.
Joseph Christopher McConnell, Jr., was just 31 years old. His remains were interred at the Victor Valley Memorial Park, Victorville, California.
¹ The McConnell “appreciation house” is located at 20822 N. Outer Highway 18, Apple Valley, California. The 1,980 square foot (184 square meters) 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, house, in derelict condition, sold for $47,000 on 16 July 2016, less than 20% of what its value should have been.