Tag Archives: Thompson Trophy

3 September 1932

James H. Doolittle with his Gee Bee R-1, NR2100, at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1932. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)
The Thompson Trophy

3 September 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100.

He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed for Record Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 473.82 kilometers per hour (294.42 miles per hour).¹

The highest speed attained by Doolittle during his four passes over the 3-kilometer course was 497.352 kilometers per hour (309.040 miles per hour).

Jimmy Doolittle crosses the finish line at Cleveland, 1932.

The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as a dangerous airplane. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “She is the sweetest ship I’ve ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100.

The Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 was a single-seat, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed conventional landing gear. The airplane had been designed for a load factor of 12. It was 17 feet, 8 inches (5.385 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters), and height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter 5 feet, 1 inch ( meters). The wings were wire-braced. They had a 2.5° angle of incidence and 4.5° dihedral. Their aspect ratio was 6:1, and the wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).

The R-1 had an empty weight of 1,840 pounds (834.6 kilograms), gross weight of 2,415 pounds (1,095.4 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 3,075 pounds (1,394.8 kilograms).

The Gee Bee R-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp T3D1 nine-cylinder direct -drive radial engine. It was rated at 730 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The engine turned a two-bladed U.S. Smith Engineering Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). The engine was enclosed in a NACA cowling. The T3D1 was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).

Granville Brothers Supersportser R-1, NR2100. (NASM)

The Gee Bee R-1 had a cruise speed was 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour), and its maximum speed was more than 309 miles per hour (497 kilometers per hour). The stall speed was rather high at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), as a result of optimizing the airplane for high speed. The air racer could climb at 6,100 feet per minute (31 meters per second). The Gee Bee R-1 had a range of 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) at full throttle.²

Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100, #11, was later re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. It was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff after refueling at Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 July 1933. The pilot, Russell Boardman, was killed.

Jimmy Doolittle hops out of the Bee Bee R-1. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a brigadier general, Doolittle commanded the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers when World War II came to an end.

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General, United States Air Force.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8751

² All Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 specifications from Z.D. Granville, writing in Aero Digest Magazine, July 1933. See http://goldenageofaviation.org/geebeer2.html

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1953

Colonel J. Stanley Holtoner with his FAI record-setting F-86D Sabre, 51-6168. (FAI)

2 September 1953: Colonel J. Stanley Holtoner, U.S. Air Force, flew a production North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre, serial number 51-6168, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record over a 100 kilometer course at Vandalia, Ohio, averaging 1,110.75 kilometers per hour (690.188 miles per hour).¹ Colonel Holtoner was the commanding officer of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He was awarded the Thompson Trophy.

On the previous day, Captain Harold E. Collins flew another F-86D Sabre, 51-6145, setting an FAI World Speed Record over a 15 kilometer straight course of 1,139.219 kilometers per hour (707.878 miles per hour).²

The F-86D was an all-weather interceptor developed from North American Aviation F-86 Sabre day fighter. It was the first single-seat interceptor, and it used a very sophisticated—for its time—electronic fire control system. It was equipped with search radar and armed with twenty-four unguided 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly. The rockets could be fired in salvos of 6, 12 or 24. They had a 6 pound (2.7 kilogram) high explosive warhead and used a proximity fuse.

The F-86D was larger than the F-86A, E and F fighters, with a longer and  wider fuselage. It was also considerably heavier. The day fighter’s sliding canopy was replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy. A large, streamlined radome was above the reshaped engine intake.

The F-86D Sabre was 40 feet, 3¼ inches (12.275 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1½ inches (11.316 meters), and overal height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). The first production variant, F-86D-1-NA, had an empty weight of 13,677 pounds (6,204 kilograms) and gross weight of 16,292 pounds (7,390 kilograms).

The F-86D was equipped with a General Electric J47-GE-17 turbojet engine, rated at 5,425 pounds of thrust, or 7,500 pounds with afterburner. (Aircraft completed after 1954 were equipped with a J47-GE-33.) It had a top speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (0.909 Mach).

The F-86D had a range of 330 miles (531 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). Its rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second).

Between December 1949 and September 1954, 2,505 F-86D Sabres (sometimes called the “Sabre Dog”) were built by North American Aviation. There were many variants (“block numbers”) and by 1955, almost all the D-models had been returned to maintenance depots or the manufacturer for standardization. 981 of these aircraft were modified to a new F-86L standard. The last F-86D was removed from U.S. Air Force service in 1961.

After its service with the United States Air Force, F-86D 51-6168 was transferred to the Greek Air Force. In 2009, it was photographed, stripped and sitting on its belly, at Agrinion Airport (AGQ), Greece.

North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6168, FAI World Speed Record holder. (FAI)
North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6168, FAI World Speed Record holder. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10428

² FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 September 1946

Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston with the Thompson Trophy and the Allegheny-Ludlum Trophy, 1946 National Air Races. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

1 September 1946: Just one year after World War II came to an end, the National Air Races returned to Cleveland, Ohio. Grandstands were set up at the site of the Fisher Body Aircraft Plant No. 2, where assemblies for B-25 and B-29 bombers had been produced.

The Thompson Trophy Race was one of the most popular events because it was in view of the crowds. Sponsored by Thompson Products Company (the predecessor of TRW), it was a ten-lap pylon race flown at low altitude around a 30-mile (48.3 kilometers) course. There were two divisions. The R Division was for airplanes with reciprocating engines, and the J Division was for turbojet powered airplanes.

The race course was laid out as a parallelogram, with two 10-mile (16.1 kilometer) sides, and two 5-mile (8.0 kilometer) sides. There were two 75° turns and two 105° turns.

In addition to the Thompson Trophy, the race winner would receive $20,000 in prize money (about $265,400 in 2017 dollars). There were additional $2,000 prizes for the leader of each lap. A pilot who set a speed record during the race would win the Allegheny-Ludlum Trophy and $2,000.

Entrants for the 1946 race included many well-known air racers, test pilots and combat pilots. They included Cook Cleland, a U.S. Navy dive bomber pilot and test pilot; Woodrow W. (“Woody”) Edmondson, an aerobatic pilot; Howard Clifton (“Tick”) Lilly, a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA); Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston, an experimental test pilot with the Bell Aircraft Corporation; Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, and an experienced pylon racer; Earl Hill Ortman, test pilot for Douglas Aircraft Company, and also an experienced racer; Howard L. Pemberton; Bruce Raymond; Robert Swanson; Charles (“Chuck”) Tucker, who had flown P-40s with the “Flying Tigers” in China, and an Army Air Corps test pilot; George Schwarz Welch, the Army Air Corps hero of Pearl Harbor, and test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc.; and Sylvester Joseph (“Steve”) Wittman, an aircraft designer and air racer.

Before the war, the races used specially-constructed racing aircraft and production civil aircraft. Following the war, the expense of developing a purpose-built, competitive air racer was no longer feasible, so surplus military fighters were used.

Of the twelve airplanes competing in the 1946 Thompson Race, there was one Bell Aircraft Corporation P-39Q Airacobra; four Bell P-63 Kingcobras; one Goodyear Aircraft Corporation FG-1D Corsair (a licensed variant of the Vought-Sikorsky F4U Corsair); a Lockheed Aircraft Corporation P-38L Lightning; and five North American Aviation, Inc., P-51D Mustangs.

Bell Aircraft Corporation

Jack Woolams, Chief Test Pilot for Bell Aircraft Corporation, Experimental Test Pilot Tex Johnston and Bell’s Chief Engineer, Robert Morris Stanley, had determined that a properly prepared Bell P-39 Airacobra could outrun and outfly a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang in the Thompson race.

A Bell Aircraft mechanic was sent to inspect surplus P-39s in storage at Ponca City, Oklahoma. He selected two nearly-new P-39Q Airacobras, each with less than 50 hours flight time. Woolams and Johnston paid $3,000 for the two fighters and they were flown back to the Bell plant at Buffalo, New York.

Jack Woolams’ Cobra I was a P-39Q-10-BE, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 42-20733. Tex Johnston’s Cobra II was also a P-39Q-10-BE, 42-20869 (Bell serial number 26E-324).

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was a single-engine, single-place low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. An Allison V-1710 V-12 engine was mounted behind the cockpit in an unusual mid-engine configuration, with a drive shaft passing under the cockpit floor and turning the propeller through a remotely-mounted 1.8:1 gear reduction unit. This allowed the fighter to be armed with a large 37 mm autocannon which fired through the propeller hub.

Bell P-39Q-20-BE Airacobra 44-3887 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force)

The P-39Q was the final production version of the Airacobra. It was 30 feet, 2 inches (9.195 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters) overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The P-39Q had an empty weight of 5,645 pounds (2,561 kilograms), and maximum gross of 8,300 pounds (3,765 kilograms).

Allison Division of General Motors

The production P-39Q was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-E19 (V-1710-85) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The V-1710-85 had a continuous power rating of 810 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The engine’s takeoff power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., and its military power rating was 1,125 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 14,600 feet (4,450 meters). 100/130 octane aviation gasoline was required. The Allison drove a three-bladed Aeroproducts Division A632S-C1 hydraulically-operated constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.531 meters) through a 2.23:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-85 was 16 feet, 2.00 inches (4.928 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.56 inches (0.954 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,435 pounds (651 kilograms).

Cutaway illustration showing the unusual mid-engine arrangement of the Bell P-39 Airacobra. (Allison Division of General Motors)

The Bell P39Q had a maximum speed of 385.0 mph (619.6 kilometers per hour) at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). Its service ceiling was 34,900 feet (10,638 meters), absolute ceiling, 35,700 feet (10,881 meters), and its range was 1,075 miles (1,730 kilometers).

The P-39Q was armed with one Browning M4 37 mm autocannon with 30 rounds of explosive ammunition, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with two in the nose with 200 rounds per gun, and one mounted under each wing in pods with 300 rounds per gun.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation built 9,558 P-39s. 4,905 of these were P-39Qs. 705 were the P-39Q-10-BE variant.

Jack Woolams (left) and Tex Johnston pose with their air racers, Cobra I and Cobra II, at the Bell Aircraft Corporation plant, August 1946. (airrace,com)

Bell Aircraft provided hangar space for the two Airacobras, and assigned an engineer and five mechanics to the project. Cobra I was painted red with black accents. It was issued Civil Aeronautics Administration experimental registration NX92847. Its race number, 75, was painted on the wings and fuselage. Cobra II was painted yellow with black trim, and registered NX92848. Its race number was 84.

Both airplanes were stripped of armament, armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. The landing gear was modified to reduce its retraction time from 22 seconds to just 4 seconds. The standard fabric-covered ailerons, rudder and elevators were covered with sheet aluminum. Adjustable trim tabs were deleted. Gyroscopic instruments were removed. The pitot tube was moved from the left wing tip and placed on a long boom projecting through the propeller hub. Thin, light-weight Goodyear fuel bladders were installed, not only reducing weight, but increasing the Airacobras’ fuel capacity by 10%. The roll-down side windows of the P-39 were replaced by fixed Plexiglas panels.

Bell P-39Q-10-BE NX92848, Cobra II, Tex Johnston’s Thompson Trophy Race winner. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Engineers at Allison recommended that a modified Allison XV-1710-135 (E31) engine be used. The modified engines used an increased-diameter supercharger impeller and undersized pistons to reduce cylinder wall friction. Using 140-octane Mobil aviation gasoline, they produced 2,000 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. with 86 inches (291 kilopascals) of manifold pressure. The high power output required that the engine be provided with a continuous injection of a precisely-measured water and ethyl/methyl alcohol solution above 57 inches (193 kilopascals) of manifold pressure. An 85 gallon (322 liter) tank for the injection mixture was placed in the nose.

Tex Johnston’s Thompson Trophy-winning Bell P39Q Airacobra, “Cobra II.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The increased power of the modified XV-1710-135 required that the P-39’s standard three-bladed propeller be replaced by a four bladed unit from the P-63 Kingcobra. This was an Aeroproducts A624S constant-speed propeller with hollow steel blades. Its diameter was 11 feet, 0 inches (3.531 meters). The propeller gear reduction ratio remained the same, at 2.23:1, as did the remote gear box, at 1.8:1.

Allison V-1710-E19 (V-1710-85) with extension drive shaft and remote propeller drive gear unit. (Allison Division of General Motors)

The V-1710-E31 was longer, at 17 feet, 4.00 inches (5.283 meters), and heavier, than the E19 because of an outboard reduction gear box. It was 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, with the same 2 foot, 5.28 inch (0.744 meters) width. It weighed 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms).

Jack Woolams’ P-39 Cobra I leads a P-51D Mustang around a pylon turn during qualifying, August 1946. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

When race qualifications were held, Tex Johnston was placed first with his yellow Cobra II. His average speed was 409.091 mph (658.368 kilometers per hour). George Welch was second with his P-51D, number 37. Jack Woolams and Cobra I were third.

Jack Valentine Woolams

Jack Valentine Woolams was killed on 30 August, two days before the race, when his Cobra I crashed into Lake Ontario while returning to the Bell plant for an engine change. The Airacobra’s windshield may have collapsed at over 400 miles per hour (644 kilometers per hour).

The race was held on Sunday, 1 September 1946. Tex Johnston, leading the field, took off and retracted his landing gear, climbing to 300 feet (91 meters). As he approached the first turn, he rolled Cobra II into a 4G turn (75.5° angle of bank) and dove to 60 feet (18 meters). As he made the turn, he was already pulling far ahead of the other racers.

George Welch dropped out when his Merlin engine began overheating. Tony LeVier’s P-38 Lightning, race number 3, held on to second place. By the ninth lap, Tex Johnston was passing the airplanes at the back of the field.

On the final turn, Johnston rolled into a 90° bank, and at only 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground, passed inside a Bell P-63 Kingcobra at 430 miles per hour (692 kilometers per hour) to win the race. His average speed for the ten laps was 373.908 mph (601.746 kilometers per hour).

After winning the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race, test pilot Tex Johnston kisses his wife, DeLores. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Tex Johnston with the Thompson Trophy, 1946 National Air Races, Cleveland, Ohio. (LIFE Magazine)

Tony LeVier and his Lightning were in second place at 370.193 mph (595.768 kilometers per hour). Finishers 3, 4 and 5 were P-51D Mustangs. Number 6 was the lone FG-1D Corsair, followed by another P-51D. Proving that Woolams, Johnston and Stanley knew their airplane, the final three finishers were the three remaining P-63 Kingcobras.

An oil-streaked, race-winning Bell P-39Q Airacobra, NX92848, Tex Johnston’s Cobra II. The modified Allison engine’s undersized pistons allowed excessive blow-by. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Cobra II competed in the 1947 Thompson Trophy Race. Flown by Bell Aircraft Corp. test pilot Gerald A. (“Jay”) Demming, and carrying the race number 11, it finished in third place behind two Goodyear F2G-1 Super Corsairs. Demming’s average speed was 367.625 miles per hour (591.635 kilometers per hour).

In the 1948 Thompson race, Cobra II, still carrying the number 11, was flown by Charles Brown. For this year, the race was twenty laps of a shorter, 15 mile (24.1 kilometer) course. Cobra II had qualified in first place with an average speed of 418.300 miles per hour (673.189 kilometers per hour). Brown led the race for 18 laps. His highest speed for a single lap was 413.907 miles per hour (666.119 kilometers per hour). He had to land, though, when the modified Allison engine began losing power. The race was won by a P-51D Mustang.

Bell P-39Q-10-BE Airacobra NX92849
Cobra II at the 1947 National Air Races, with race number 11. It was flown in the Thompson Trophy race by Bell test pilot Jay Demming, who placed third.

The history of Cobra II is elusive until it was purchased by Ed Maloney in 1960. It was sold to Michael D. Carroll in 1967. Carroll was the owner of Signal Trucking Co., and lived in Palos Verdes, California. The Airacobra was now registered N9824. Carroll had the airplane’s wings shortened by 4 feet per side (1.2 meters), and renamed it Cobra III.

On 10 August 1968, Carroll and Cobra III took of from Long Beach Airport (LGB), enroute to Orange County Airport (SNA), at nearby Santa Ana, California. At 11:15 a.m., the racer crashed at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Carroll bailed out, but his parachute did not open and he was killed. His body was located 125 feet (38 meters) from the wreckage. There was no post-crash fire. Lieutenant Commander Jack Kellicott, U.S. Navy, said that the airplane had run out of fuel.

Tex Johnston left Bell Aircraft Corporation and moved on to Boeing in Seattle, initially testing the swept-wing XB-47 Stratojet. He made the first flights of the YB-52 and XB-52 Stratofortress; the Model 367-80 (the “Dash 80”), which he notoriously rolled over Lake Washington, 6 August 1955; the KC-135A Stratotanker; and the Model 707 airliner. As Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Tex Johnston set the standard by which modern flight testing is carried out.

Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston, Chief of Flight Test. (The Boeing Company)

Highly recommended: Tex Johnston, Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1991

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1956

Commander R.W. "Duke" Windsor, U.S. Naby, flying Vought F8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 141345, set a U.S. national speed record of miles per hour ( km/h) at 40,000 feet over China Lake, California. (University of Texas)
Commander Robert W. “Duke” Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy, flying Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345. (University of Texas)

21 August 1956: At 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) over Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, near Ridgecrest, California, Commander Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy, flew a production Chance Vought Aircraft F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345, to 1,015.428 miles per hour (1,634.173 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.54—over a 15 kilometer (9.3 miles) straight course. This established a new U.S. National Speed Record, breaking the previous record set by a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre two years earlier.

National Aeronautics Association officials check timers after Commander Windsor's speed record flight. (Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation via Voughtworks)
National Aeronautics Association officials check timers after Commander Windsor’s speed record flight. (Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation via Voughtworks)
Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy, with a Vought F8U Crusader. (U.S. Navy)
Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy, with a Vought F8U Crusader. (U.S. Navy)

“Duke” Windsor was awarded the Thompson Trophy for 1956 at the National Aircraft Show, Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, during the first weekend of September.

F8U-1 Bu. No. 141345 was the twelfth production Crusader. It was a single-place, single-engine carrier based day fighter capable of supersonic speed.

The F8U-1 (redesignated F-8A in 1962) was 54 feet, 3 inches (16.535 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.770 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (14.801 meters). Its empty weight was 15,513 pounds (7.036.6 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,468 pounds (12,459.3 kilograms).

The Crusader was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4A turbojet engine which produced 16,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner. This gave the fighter a maximum speed of Mach 1.53 (1,013 miles per hour/1,630 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) or 733 miles per hour (1,180 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane could climb at 20,000 feet per minute (101.6 meters per second) and had a service ceiling of 42,300 feet (12,893 meters).

Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy (right) with the Thompson Trophy. (Vought Aircraft)
Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy (right) and Fred Crawford of Thompson Products with the Thompson Trophy. (Vought Heritage)

The F8U-1 was armed with four Colt Mk. 12 20 mm cannon with 144 rounds per gun, and carried two AIM-9A Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

Commander Windsow was a Navy test pilot who carried out much of the F8U test program, including the aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59).

Bu. No. 141345 was assigned to the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC), NAS Point Mugu, California, in 1961. It was converted to an F-8D, but was removed from service in 1964.

Vought built 1,213 F-8 Crusaders. 318 were the F8U-1 variant. Crusaders were in service with the United States Navy for 30 years.

A Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader (F-8A), Bu. No. 143806, is on display at the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum at Horsham, Pennsylvania, approximately 30 minutes north of Philadelphia.

Vought Aircraft F8U Crusader Bu. No. 141345 at NAS Point Mugu, circa 1961).
Vought Aircraft F8U Crusader Bu. No. 141345 at NAS Point Mugu, circa 1961. (Million Monkey Theater)
Midshipman Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy (Lucky Bag, 1941)
Midshipman Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy, 1941. (Lucky Bag)

Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr. was born at Wilmington, Delaware, 8 October 1918, the son of Robert W. Windsor and Mary B. Hackett Windsor. He studied at the University of Virginia before being appointed as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, entering 9 July 1937 and  graduating in 1941. He was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 7 February 1941, and promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant, effective 1 December 1942.

Trained as a pilot, Windsor was designated a Naval Aviator in 1943. During World War II, he served aboard the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS McLanahan (DD-615 ), a Benson-class destroyer, in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He also commanded Composite Squadron 68 (VC-68) aboard the escort carrier USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84).

Lieutenant Windsor was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 20 July 1945. He served on the staff of Admiral Marc A. Mitsher. He was promoted to commander, 1 June 1951.

Following World War II, Lieutenant Commander Windsor trained at the Combat Information Center School, and then the Naval Air Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. During the Korean War, Commander Windsor flew off of USS Yorktown (CV-10).

USS Currituck (AV-7) at anchor off Santa Catalina Island, California, 12 November 1964. The aircraft is a Martin P5M Mariner. (U.S. Navy)
USS Currituck (AV-7) at anchor off Santa Catalina Island, California, 12 November 1964. The aircraft is a Martin P5M-2 Marlin. (U.S. Navy)

After two tours as a test pilot, Commander Windsor was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 July 1959. He served on the naval operations staff. Captain Windsor commanded USS Currituck (AV-7), a sea plane tender, from April 1962 to February 1963. From 31 July 1964 to 11 August 1965, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62), and then served on the staff of Commander, Second Fleet, aboard USS Newport News (CA-148). Captain Windsor retired from the Navy in April 1967, after 30 years of service.

USS Independence (CVA-62) at New York Harbor, Juky 1964. (U.S Navy)
USS Independence (CVA-62) at New York Harbor, July 1964. (U.S Navy)

Captain Windsor married Miss Elizabeth Bethell Foster of Denver, Colorado. They had one son, also named Robert. Mrs. Windsor died in 1963.

Captain Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy (Retired), died at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 27 May 2000, at the age of 81 years. He and his wife are buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Commander Robert W. "Dule" Windsor, Jr., stands in teh cockpit of teh record-setting Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345. (U.S. Navy)
Commander Robert W. “Duke” Windsor, Jr., stands in the cockpit of the record-setting Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345, at Armitage Field, NAWS China Lake, California. (U.S. Navy)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1951

Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force
Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force

17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.

Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (FAI)
Colonel Fred J. Ascani with the Thompson Trophy, 1951. (AP)

Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹

For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.

Fred Ascani in the cockpit of F-86E
Fred Ascani in the cockpit of North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2724. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E 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, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).

The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).

The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).

The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).

In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.

The FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952.
A group of Allied pilots stand with the FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952. Its pilot, Lieutenant Jack L. Price, has named it THIS’LL KILL YA.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10429

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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