11 December 1945: Three days after Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden and Captain Glen W. Edwards set a transcontinental speed record flying a prototype Douglas XB-42 from Long Beach, California, to Washington, D.C., in 5 hours, 17 minutes, Colonel Clarence S. Irvine and the crew of the B-29 Pacusan Dreamboat also set a record, flying from Burbank, California to overhead Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 5 hours, 27 minutes, 8 seconds. The average speed for the 2,464-mile flight was 450.38 miles per hour (724.82 kilometers per hour).
Irvine was Deputy Chief of Staff, Pacific Air Command, 1944–1947. He flew the Pacusan Dreamboat on several record-setting flights, including Guam to Washington, D.C., and Honolulu, Hawaii to Cairo, Egypt. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general in the United States Air Force, and served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel.
Pacusan Dreamboat was a Bell Aircraft Corporation B-29B-60-BA Superfortress, built at Marietta, Georgia. The B-29B was a lightweight variant of the B-29, intended for operation at lower altitudes. It did not have the four power gun turrets and their .50-caliber machine guns. A radar-directed 20 mm cannon and two .50-caliber machine guns in the tail were the only defensive weapons. Much of the standard armor plate was also deleted. Pacusan Dreamboat was further lightened. The tail guns were removed and the tail reshaped.
The B-29B was equipped with four air-cooled, fuel-injected Wright R-3350-CA-2 Duplex Cyclone two-row 18 cylinder radial engines and specially-designed propellers. The engine nacelles were modified for improved cooling.
The Superfortress had been lightened to an empty weight of 66,000 pounds (29,937 kilograms). A standard B-29B weighed 69,000 pounds (31,298 kilograms) empty and 137,000 pounds (62,142 kilograms) fully loaded. Additional fuel tanks installed on the Dreamboat were able to carry 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) of gasoline.
27 November 1957: “Four U.S. Air Force pilots of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing successfully completed Operation Sun Run by establishing three new transcontinental speed records in a McDonnell RF-101C aircraft. The record-breaking mission showcased the speed and range of the RF-101C, an improved version of the first supersonic photo reconnaissance aircraft, the RF-101A.
“Operation Sun Run called for six RF-101C aircraft — two to fly round-trip from Los Angeles to New York and back again, two for the one-way flight from Los Angeles to New York, and two for backups if problems arose with the four primary aircraft. The undertaking required massive coordination of aircraft crews and radar and weather stations from coast to coast.
“Six pilots of the 17th and 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing were chosen for Operation Sun Run. Each prepared for the round-trip flight, since they would not know which flight they were assigned until a few days before the operation. All six pilots had extensive experience in photo reconnaissance aircraft, although the RF-101 was relatively new to Tactical Air Command.
“The success of Operation Sun Run also depended on the performance of the newly available KC-135 Stratotanker, the USAF’s first jet tanker. The KC-135’s speed allowed the RF-101s to refuel at an altitude of 35,000 feet and a speed of Mach 0.8. Crews from Strategic Air Command and Air Force Research and Development Command prepared for the 26 refuelings the Operation Sun Run RF-101Cs would require.
“At 6:59 a.m., 27 November 1957, Capt. Ray Schrecengost took off from Ontario International Airport near Los Angeles on the first RF-101C round-trip flight of Operation Sun Run. Next into the air were Capt. Robert Kilpatrick on his one-way flight and Capt. Donald Hawkins, flying back-up. Capt. Hawkins followed until the first refueling was complete, and then flew to March Air Force Base, Calif. At 7:50 a.m., Capt. Robert Sweet took off on the second round-trip flight. Lt. Gustav Klatt followed, beginning his one-way trip. Their backup, Capt. Robert Burkhart, also flew to March Air Force Base after the first successful refueling.
“All four RF-101C pilots easily surpassed the previous speed records and established new ones. The new Los Angeles to New York record was established by Lt. Klatt, at 3 hours, 7 minutes and 43.63 seconds. Capt. Sweet set the round-trip record, at a time of 6 hours, 46 minutes and 36.21 seconds, and the New York to Los Angeles record, at a time of 3 hours, 36 minutes and 32.33 seconds.”
—Fact Sheets: Operation Sun Run, National Museum of the United States Air Force
The McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo was an unarmed reconnaissance variant of the F-101C fighter. It was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.133 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). The height was 18 feet (5.486 meters). Empty weight for the RF-101C was 26,136 pounds (11,855 kilograms), with a maximum takeoff weight of 51,000 pounds (23,133 kilograms).
The RF-101C was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 maximum continuous power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons); military power, 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit); and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The -P-13 was 3 feet, 4.3 inches (1.024 meters) in diameter, 17 feet, 7.0 inches (5.359 meters) long, and weighed 5,025 pounds (2,279 kilograms).
The aircraft had a maximum speed of 879 knots (1,012 miles per hour/1,629 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters)—Mach 1.53. The service ceiling was 49,600 feet (15,118 meters). The Voodoo could carry up to three drop tanks, giving a total fuel capacity of 3,150 gallons (11,294 liters) and a maximum range of 1,864 nautical miles (2,145 statute miles/3,452 kilometers).
The RF-101C was unarmed. It carried six cameras in its nose. Two Fairchild KA-1s were aimed downward, with four KA-2s facing forward, down and to each side.
Beginning in 1954, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation built 807 F-101 Voodoos. 166 of these were the RF-101C variant. This was the only F-101 Voodoo variant to be used in combat during the Vietnam War. The RF-101C remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1979.
A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available on YouTube:
3 September 1954: At the Dayton Air Show, being held for the first time at the James M. Cox Municipal Airport, Major John L. (“Jack”) Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, flew his North American Aviation F-86H-1-NH Sabre, 52-1998, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 1,045.206 kilometers per hour (649.461 miles per hour). ¹
The North American Aviation F-86H was a fighter-bomber variant of the famous Sabre Jet day fighter. It was equipped with a much more powerful General Electric J73-GE-3 turbojet engine. The engine was larger that the J47 used in previous F-86 models, and this required a much larger air intake and airframe modifications. The fuselage was 6 inches deeper and two feet longer than the F-86F. This accommodated the new engine and an increase in fuel load. The tail surfaces were changed with an increase in the height of the vertical fin and the elevators were changed to an “all-flying” horizontal stabilizer. The first F-86Hs built retained the six Browning AN-M3 .50 caliber machine guns of the F-86F, but this was quickly changed to four Pontiac M39 20 millimeter revolver cannon.
The F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).
The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (%-minute limit). The J73 was 12 feet, 3.2 inches (3.739 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.8 inches (0.935 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).
The F-86H had a maximum speed of 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 536 knots (617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With a full load ofbombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 350 nautical miles (402 statute miles/648 kilometers) at 470 knots (541 miles per hour (870 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,573 nautical miles (1,810 statute miles/2,913 kilometers).
F-86H Sabres (after the first ten production airplanes) were armed with four Pontiac M39 20 mm autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun. In ground attack configuration, it could carry a maximum bomb load of 2,310 pounds (1,048 kilograms), or one 12–24 kiloton Mark 12 “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.”
The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954. 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended. By 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.
John Leroy Armstrong was born in Orange County, California, 19 July 1922. He was the fourth child of Milton Williams Armstrong, an engineer, and Olive M. Meyer Armstrong. As a child, he was called “Jake.”
Major Armstrong had been a fighter pilot during World War II, flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, initially with the 554 Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group.
On 13 March 1944, Armstrong made a forced landing at North Killingholme when his fighter ran out of fuel.
2nd Lieutenant Armstrong was assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group based at RAF Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, England, 26 March 1944. He flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.
The 79th transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Armstrong was promoted to first lieutenant 26 June 1944. He was officially credited with having destroyed one enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 190. On 28 August 1944, while flying his 30th combat mission, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13791, Guardian Angel, was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire while he was attacking a railway roundhouse at Bad Greuznach, Germany. Armstrong bailed out but was captured. He was held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I at Barth, Western Pomerania. Armstrong was returned to U.S. military control in June 1945.
Major Armstrong had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Two days after setting the speed record, Jack Armstrong was attempting to increase his record speed. The Sabre broke up in flight and Major Armstrong was killed.
John Leroy Armstrong’s remains were buried at the Loma Vista Memorial Park, Fullerton, California, 11 September 1954.
29 August 1938: At 7:37 a.m., Alexander Nikolaevich Prokofiev-Seversky departed Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, flying a Seversky AP-7 Pursuit, NX1384, an all-metal monocoque monoplane of his own design and manufacture, enroute to the Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, a distance of 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers). He completed the flight in 10 hours, 2 minutes, 55.7 seconds, setting a new speed record for an East-to-West Transcontinental Flight. Major Seversky refueled during a 30-minute stop at Kansas City.
Larry Therkelson of the National Aeronautic Association was the official timer for the record attempt.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
SEVERSKY SETS RECORD
Flies across Country in Few Minutes More than Ten Hours
Maj. Alexander P. (Sascha) de Seversky, who flew fighting planes for the Czar of Russia and now builds pursuit ships for the American Army, yesterday notched another hour off the already incredibly narrow time-space separating the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
In a “civilianized” fighter made at his Long Island factory, de Seversky thrashed along the 2600-mile airway from Floyd Bennett Field, N.Y., to Union Air Terminal, Burbank, in ten hours, three minutes, seven seconds, better than 260 miles per hour.
START AND FINISH
He had gobbled a husky breakfast of oatmeal, orange juice and toast in Manhattan as dawn arose over the skyscrapers (at 3:37 a.m. P.S.T.)
Under a blazing Southland sun that shot the mercury to 100 deg. at Burbank, he toyed with a chicken sandwich fifteen minutes after he set his pursuiter’s trim wheels down at exactly 1:40:07 p.m.
De Seversky was greeted—warmly—by Jacqueline Cochran, America’s No. 1 woman speed flyer for whom he was ferrying the all-metal monoplane to Los Angeles. She will retrace his course in the small hours of Saturday, seeking the lion’s share of the $30,000 Bendix Trophy purse.
It was, he said, “Practically nothing.”
In a new age of aeronautics, when pilots break records just in the day’s work during routine assignments, de Seversky stands with the best of ’em.
His time and speed would have been materially bettered if he’d been “trying,” he admitted. At Kansas City, plopping down into TWA’s hangars for refueling, he wasted a precious twenty-nine minutes while mechanics tinkered with his tricky gasoline system.
“Once I was traveling more than 300 miles an hour,” De Seversky admitted.
MERELY A WARM-UP
How much faster he could have flown, the esrtwhile White Russian declined to say—”Wait until ‘Jacky’ starts for Cleveland in the Bendix race,” he interposed.
“I used oxygen part of the way, especially when I climbed to 16,000 over the Kansas prairies during a hailstorm,” he said. “This whole flight was nothing but a warm-up. I could have flown nonstop. Instead, I tried different wing loadings and paused at Kansas City. Sometimes I throttled down to less than 240 miles an hour.”
Two hundred and forty!
Between bites of chicken sandwich, De Seversky pointed out that his 1200-horsepower plane can soar 3000 miles without refilling its wing-to-wing tanks that carry 540 gallons of high octane fuel. That, he observed, carries huge military significance.
“We are learning in the Army,” this builder of the nation’s fastest pursuit ships declared, “that bombardment craft are vulnerable to attack from the air unless properly convoyed.
Turn to Page 5, Column 2
Record Upset by Seversky
Continued from First Page
So—the ‘flying fortress’ that cruises 5000 miles must be accompanied by pursuit ships that can go equally as far nonstop. To Europe from America, for example.
THREE UNDER WAY
“In the United States at least three such planes are underway today. I am building one. Others may be twin-engined—such as the ship being readied at the Lockheed plant—and capable of terrific speeds.”
By Christmas of this year, de Seversky promised, a standard military fighter, soon to be released to Air Corps testers, will crack the long-sought-after 400-miles-an-hour mark.
BENDIX MARK SEEN
De Seversky was cool as he braked his craft to a halt under the gaze of Larry Therkelson, official National Aeronautic Association timer. He removed his earphones, slipped out of his jumper and asked, “When’s lunch?” To statements that he had knocked Roscoe Turner’s five-year-old record of 11h. 30m. silly, he only shrugged.
OTHERS IN RACE
Others in the Bendix race will be Frank Fuller and Miss Cochran in Seversky planes, Robert Perlick, Glendale, in a Beechcraft; Robert Hinschey and Charles LaJotte, Glendale, in a Sparton; Ross Hadley, Burbank, in a Beechcraft; George Armistead, Los Angeles, in a Q.E.D. Special; Bernarr Macfadden, New York publisher, and Ralph Francis, former TWA pilot, in a Northrop Gamma; Paul Mantz, Burbank, in a Lockheed Orion; Frank Cordova, New York, in a Bellanca; Lee Gehlbach, New York, in a Wedell-Williams, and Max Constant, Burbank, in a Beechcraft.
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LVII, Tuesday Morning, 30 August 1938, Page 1, Column 5, and Page 5, Column 2
NX1384 was built especially for Jackie Cochran. The AP-7 racer was an improved version of 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.
Cochran’s AP-7 was powered by 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 with a compression ration of 6.7:1. It was 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).
Two days later, 1 September 1938, Jackie Cochran flew this same airplane to win the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank to Cleveland, Ohio, a distance of 2,042 miles (3,286 kilometers). Her winning time was 8 hours, 10 minutes, 31.4 seconds, for an average speed of 249.774 miles per hour (401.895 kilometers per hour). After a 40 minute refueling stop, and being congratulated for her Bendix win, she flew on to Bendix, New Jersey, setting a West-to-East Transcontinental Speed Record with a total elapsed time of 10 hours, 7 minutes, 1 second.
The Seversky AP-7 and its military version, the P-35, would be developed over the next few years to become the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
28 August 1961: Operation SAGEBURNER: To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Naval Aviation, Lieutenants Huntington Hardisty and Earl De Esch, United States Navy, flew a McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 1,452.777 kilometers per hour (902.714 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer (1.864 mile) course at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. They flew BELOW 125 feet (38.1 meters) above the ground.¹
An earlier speed record attempt, 18 May 1961, ended tragically when Commander Jack L. Felsman, and Ensign Raymond M. Hite, Jr., were killed and their F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu. No. 145316, destroyed when a pitch damper failed which resulted in Pilot Induced Oscillation. This became so severe that the Phantom’s airframe was subjected to 12 Gs, causing it to break apart in flight. Both engines were torn from the airframe.
The world-record-setting airplane, McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics Serial Number (Bu. No.) 145307, SAGEBURNER, is at the Paul Garber Restoration Facility of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Huntington Hardisty rose to the rank of admiral and served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Command. He retired from the Navy in 1991 and died in 2003 at the age of 74.