15 August 1962: American Airlines’ Captain Eugene M. (“Gene”) Kruse set a National Aeronautic Association Class C-1 record for Speed Over a Commercial Air Route, East to West Transcontinental, when he flew a Boeing 720B Astrojet from New York to Los Angeles, 2,474 miles (3,981.5 kilometers), in 4 hours, 19 minutes, 15 seconds, at an average speed of 572.57 miles per hour (921.46 kilometers per hour). 56 years later, this record still stands.
The National Aeronautic Association has placed Captain Kruse’ record on its “Most Wanted” list: long-standing flight records that it would like to see challenged. Rules require that a new record exceed the old by at least a 1% margin. The performance needed to establish a new record would be 578.30 miles per hour (930.68 kilometers per hour).
The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag.
The Boeing 720 was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 149 passengers. It was 136 feet, 2 inches (41.25 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.90 meters) and overall height of 41 feet, 7 inches (12.65 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 103,145 pounds (46,785 kilograms) and Maximum Takeoff Weight of 220,000 pounds (100,800 kilograms).
The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.
The maximum cruise speed was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). Range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).
Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.
The last flight of a Boeing 720 was on 9 May 2012, when a 720B aircraft used by Pratt and Whitney Canada as a test aircraft was placed in the National Air Force Museum of Canada at Trenton, Ontario.
12 August 1930: Frank Monroe Hawks flew from Los Angeles Municipal Airport in California to Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, in a record-breaking 12 hours, 25 minutes, 3 seconds. His airplane was a Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship” named Texaco No. 13. It carried civil registration NR1313.
One week earlier, 6 August 1930, Hawks had flown across the continent from east to west, in 14 hours, 50 minutes 3 seconds. More favorable winds allowed the Type R to make a faster west-to-east flight.
Hawks’ Texaco No. 13 was the fourth of five specially designed and constructed racing aircraft produced by Travel Air Manufacturing Company of Wichita, Kansas. The company was founded by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman. The “Type R” refers to one of its designers, Herb Rawdon.
The Type R was a low-wing monoplane with a monocoque fuselage built welded tubular steel. The very thin wing was braced by wires. It used spruce spars and ribs. Both fuselage and wings were covered with 1/16-inch mahogany plywood. Attempts to streamline the airplane included a raised profile behind the pilot’s head, “wheel pants,” as well as a NACA-designed engine cowling that provided better engine cooling and caused less aerodynamic drag.
The Travel Air Type R was 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and overall height of 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters). The wing had a chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters), and total area of 125 square feet (11.6 square meters). It had an empty weight of 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,300 pounds (1,497 kilograms).
The Mystery Ship was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Whirlwind Nine (also known as the J-6-9 or R-975) nine-cylinder radial engine, normally rated at 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Various sources state that Hawks’ R-975 had been modified by increasing its compression ratio and supercharger speed, and that it produced 450 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The R-975 was built in both direct drive and geared versions. The two-bladed Standard Steel propeller had a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters).
The Mystery Ship’s cruising speed was 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) at 1,950 r.p.m., and it had a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. It had an initial rate of climb of 3,200 feet per minute (16.26 meters per second). The service ceiling was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and the absolute ceiling was 31,000 feet (9,449 meters). The range at cruise speed was 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).
One of the fastest airplanes of its time, the Type R set over 200 speed records.
Newspapers called the Type R airplanes “mystery ships” because Beech was very secretive about them. When two of them were flown to the 1929 National Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio, they taxied directly to a hangar and shut off their engines. They were immediately pushed inside. The hangar was kept locked and under guard.
Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mystery Pilot.”
Frank Hawks’ Type R is in the collection of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.
7 August 1963: The first Lockheed YF-12A interceptor, 60-6934, took off from a top secret air base at Groom Lake, Nevada, on its first flight. Lockheed test pilot James D. Eastham was at the controls.
Three YF-12A prototypes s were built. They were Mach 3+ interceptors developed from the Central Intelligence Agency “Oxcart” Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance airplane.
The interceptors were equipped with a very effective Hughes fire control system and armed with three Hughes AIM-47 Falcon air-to-air missiles. In 1965 the U.S. Air Force placed an order for 93 F-12B interceptors for the Air Defense Command, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara continually refused to release the funds which Congress had appropriated. Eventually the contract was cancelled.
In testing, a YF-12A launched a Falcon missile while flying at Mach 3.2 at 74,000 feet (22,555 meters). It successfully intercepted and destroyed a target drone flying at only 500 feet (152 meters).
On 1 May 1965, YF-12A 60-6936, flown by Colonel Robert L. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel David Andre, set a world speed record of 2,070.101 miles per hour (3,331.505 kilometers per hour) and a sustained altitude record of 80,257.86 feet (22,677 meters).
60-6934 was damaged beyond repair in a runway accident at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 August 1966. Part of the airplane was salvaged and used to construct the only SR-71C, 64-17981, a two-seat trainer. The third YF-12A, 60-6936, was destroyed when the crew ejected during an inflight fire near Edwards AFB, 24 June 1971. The only remaining YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
4 August 1960: NASA research test pilot Joseph Albert Walker set an unofficial world speed record when he flew the number one North American Aviation X-15, 56-6670, to 2,195 miles per hour (3,532.5 kilometers per hour). This was the 18th flight of the X-15 Program. It was 56-6670’s eighth flight and Walker’s fourth X-15 flight. The purpose of this test was to gradually increase the rocket plane’s speed toward its design limit.
Airdropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, over Silver Lake, near the California-Nevada border, at 08:59:13.0 a.m., PDT, Walker fired the X-15’s two Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 rocket engines for 264.2 seconds. The X-15 accelerated to Mach 3.31 and climbed to a peak altitude of 78,112 feet (23,810 meters). [The two XLR11s were used as an interim powerplant until the Reaction Motors XLR99 was ready. The combined thrust of both LR11s was only slightly more than the idle thrust of the XLR99.]
Walker touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight of 10 minutes, 22.6 seconds.
26 July 1937: Jackie Cochran set a United States Women’s National Speed Record ¹ of 203.895 miles per hour (328.137 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.4 mile) course between the Union Air Terminal at Burbank, California, and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and return, flying a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” NX17081, serial number 136. ²
“A woman in the air, therefore, had a choice of flying around in a light plane for pleasure or of obtaining for herself new fast and experimental equipment and determining the maximum that could be obtained from its use. I followed the second course. The objective of each flight was to go faster through the atmosphere or higher into it than anyone else and to bring back some new information about plane, engine, fuel, instruments, air or pilot that would be helpful in the conquest of the atmosphere.”
—The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 58
The Oakland Tribune reported:
WOMAN MAKES SPEED FLIGHT
Coast Record May have been Set on Oakland-L.A. Hop
Jacqueline Cochrane [sic] Odlum, wife of a wealthy New York investment broker, today claimed a non-stop speed record for women fliers between Los Angeles and Oakland.
The 27-year-old aviatrix made the round trip between Union Air terminal and Oakland yesterday in 3 hours 2 minutes and 51 seconds, averaging 203.89 miles per hour.
While no official record now exists for a women’s flight over the 621.37 mile distance, Mrs. Odlum said she will seek recognition of her mark by the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
Mrs. Odlum probably will enter her cabin racing plane, equipped with a 600-horsepower engine, in the Bendix races in September. She has been in the Bendix races before, and, in 1934, was in the London-to-Australia air derby but abandoned her hop in Bucharest.
Floyd Odlum, to whom the aviatrix was married last year, is eminent in the world of finance and is known as the man who built the Atlas Corporation into one of the most successful investment trusts.
On 29 July, the International News Service reported:
199 M.P.H. RECORD SET BY AVIATRIX
Jacqueline Odlum Establishes Second Flying Mark
BURBANK, Calif., July 29—(I.N.S.)—Another women’s flying record—her second in a week—was hung up by Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, pretty aviatrix, timekeepers at the Los Angeles airport here announced today.
Mrs. Odlum flew to Garden Grove, Cal., and back to set a new 100-kilometer speed record for women of 199 miles an hour. The previous record was held by Mrs. Louise Thaden, who did it at 196 miles and hour.
A week ago [sic] Mrs. Odlum flew to San Francisco and back at 203.89 miles an hour to set an average speed record for 1,000 kilometers.
—Lancaster New Era, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Thursday, 29 July 1937Page 15, Column 7
NC17081 was one of two special D17W biplanes that were built by the Beech Aircraft Corporation, based on the production D17S “Staggerwing.” Jackie Cochran set aviation records with both of the D17Ws. The first, c/n 136, was originally sold to famous aviator Frank Monroe Hawks, but that purchase was not completed. Cochran was given the use of the airplane by the Beechcraft.
The Beechcraft Model 17 was single-engine, single-bay biplane operated by a single pilot, and which could carry up to three passengers in an enclosed cabin. The airplane got its nickname, “Staggerwing,” from the lower wing being placed forward of the upper wing for improved pilot visibility. The airplane’s 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, with the leading edges and wing tips covered with plywood. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with electrically-operated retractable landing gear and wing flaps.
The D17-series differed from earlier Beech Model 17 variants by having the fuselage lengthened to improve elevator effectiveness, and the ailerons were on the upper wing.
The D17S was 26 feet, 10.7 inches (8.197 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 3 inches (3.124 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,928 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 Beechcraft D17S was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1, ³ a single-row 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. This engine was rated at 400 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), maximum continuous power, and 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for take off, using 91-octane gasoline. The R-985-AN-1 was 3 feet, 7.05 inches (1.093 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 682 pounds (309 kilograms) when constructed of aluminum, or 674 pounds (306 kilograms), built of magnesium. The engine drove a Hamilton Standard propeller with a diameter 8 feet, 3 inches (2.515 meters).
The production D17S Staggerwing had a cruise speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters) and range was 840 miles (1,352 kilometers).
Beechcraft D17W NX17081 was built for Frank Hawks with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749 cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. SC-G single-row nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. (Engine serial number 531.) This was the only geared variant of the Wasp Jr., and had a reduction ratio of 3:2. This engine was rated at 525 horsepower at 2,700 horsepower up to an altitude of 9,500 feet (2,896 meters) with 87-octane gasoline, and 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff (when using 100-octane aviation gasoline). The additional 150 horsepower greatly increased the D17W’s performance over the standard production airplane. The Wasp Jr. SC-G was 3 feet, 10.469 inches (1.180 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.75 inches (1.187 meters) in diameter and weighed 864 pounds (392 kilograms).
After Jackie Cochran’s speed record, c/n 136 was registered NC17081, re-engined with a 971.930 cubic inch (15.927 liters), 420 horsepower Wright Whirlwind R-975 and re-designated D17R. After changing ownership several times, the Wright engine was replaced with a Pratt & Whitney R-985 and once again re-designated, this time as a D17S.
Early in World War II, the former speed record holder was impressed into military service. It was registered to the Defense Supplies Corporation, Washington, D.C., 14 April 1942, but the registration was cancelled four months later, 11 August 1942. Assigned to the United States Navy, c/n 136 was once again re-designated, this time as a GB-1 Traveler, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 09776.
Beechcraft GB-1 Traveler Bu. No. 09776 was stricken off at NAS Glenview, Illinois, 30 June 1945.
¹ A check with the National Aeronautics Association this afternoon (25 February 2016) was unable to verify this record. —TDiA
² At least one source states that this record was flown in the second Beechcraft D17W, NR18562, c/n 164.
³ This is a different engine than the R-985-1, which was military variant of the 300-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A.