Tag Archives: Transcontinental Flight

14 January 1936

Hoard Hughes with his record-setting Northrop Gamma. (Unattributed)
Howard Hughes with the record-setting Northrop Gamma. (UNLV Special Collections)

14 January 1936: Flying a Northrop Gamma 2G, serial number 11, which he had leased from Jackie Cochran, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course (Los Angeles, California, to New York) in 9 hours, 26 minutes, 10 seconds, at an average speed of 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour).¹ Most of the flight was made at altitudes of  15,000–18,000 feet (4,572–5,486 meters), and Hughes used supplemental breathing oxygen.

Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)
Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)

Jack Northrop had designed and built the Gamma as a long-range cargo and mail plane for Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. The contract was cancelled, though, and several airplanes became available to other customers. Jackie Cochran purchased s/n 11, which had been completed 15 August 1934, and had it modified by Northrop as a two-place long-distance racer for the 1934 MacRobertson London-to-Australia air race, which she planned to fly with her friend Ted Marshall.

The length of the Gamma varied from 29’10” to 31’0″, depending on engine and cockpit configuration. The wingspan was 48’0″.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine, 9 September 1934. (SDASM Archives)
The Northrop Corporation Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification for the MacRobertson Race, 29 September 1934. (The Northrop Corporation)
The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine. (SDASM Archives)

The Gamma’s original engine was replaced with a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Conqueror SGV1570F4 (also known as the Curtiss Conqueror), a DOHC 60° V-12 engine rated at 745 horsepower at Sea Level. The engine drove a two-bladed propeller. The Gamma had 7 fuel tanks: 3 in each wing and 1 in the fuselage. Total capacity was 486 gallons (1,840 liters) of gasoline and 29 gallons (110 liters)of lubricating oil. A second fuselage tank was later added, bring the total fuel capacity to 586 gallons (2,218 liters). The Gamma 2G had an empty weight of 4,727 pounds (2,144 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 8,037 pounds (3,646 kilograms). The modified airplane was inspected and a temporary commercial registration, NC13671, was approved 29 September 1934.

While being ferried to New York by Jackie and her new copilot, Royal Leonard, problems with the engine’s supercharger forced them to land in Arizona. Cochran continued east by airliner while Leonard and a Curtiss-Wright mechanic continued east in the Gamma. Flying on the night of 1 October 1934, a continuing problem with the supercharger forced them to make an off-field landing near Tucumcari, New Mexico, using light from dropped flares. The Gamma was seriously damaged and had to be returned to Northrop for repair.

Northrop Gamma 2G NX13761 after installation of the air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine. (SDASM Archives)

The airplane’s temporary registration was suspended. A section of the wing and the forward lower half of the fuselage were replaced, provisions for installing a Pratt & Whitney radial engine were made, and the rear cockpit was removed. (Cochran’s plans for the MacRobertson Race had to be revised,² so she had the airplane modified for the Bendix Trophy Race.) The repairs and modifications were completed 30 November 1934.

Jackie Cochran’s Northrop Gamma NX13761 after radial engine installation, photographed at Clemenceau, near Cottonwood, Arizona, circa 1935. (Ruth Reinhold Aviation Collection, Arizona Memory Project RRA-AMP107)

The “re-modified” Gamma 2G was now powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liters) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine with a three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The SA1-G was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). The engine could be ordered with a 3:2 or 4:3 gear reduction ratio.

Jackie Cochran flew the Gamma in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, but, approaching severe weather over the Grand Canyon, landed the airplane and did not finish the race.

The official ownership history of the Gamma is murky. The original application for a Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch license specified the owner as The Northrop Corporation. On 4 January 1935, Northrop’s registration was cancelled by the Department of Commerce because, “Aircraft not inspected for relicensing.”

Jackie Cochran with the Northrop Gamma 2G, circa 1936. Photographed by Toni Frissell.

When Jackie Cochran requested registration in her name, she failed to submit a Bill of Sale with her application. After repeated written requests by the Bureau of Air Commerce to submit a bill of sale went unanswered, her application for a restricted registration for the airplane was cancelled, 9 January 1936. J Carroll Cone, Assistant Director of Air Commerce (Air Regulation) informed her in writing: “The status of this aircraft is unlicensed and unidentified, according to our records. Any operation thereof would be in violation of the Air Commerce Regulations and subject the offender to the civil penalty provided therefor.”

Finally, a Bill of Sale from The Northrop Corporation, dated 30 November 1935, was provided to the Aeronautics Bureau. It said that Northrop had sold the airplane to Cochran, “for and in consideration of ten dollars ($10.00)”.

Meanwhile, Howard Hughes had seen the Gamma and wanted to buy it. Jackie Cochran tells how Howard Hughes acquired the airplane:

One night about 11:30 I was exhausted in my hotel room and the telephone rang. . .

“Jackie,” the voice says, “this is Howard.”

“Howard who?” I say, still sleepy and getting frustrated.

“Howard Hughes,” the man says.

“Howard who?” I ask again.

“Howard Hughes,” he repeats.

. . . We argued about who he was a bit more. Finally, he says, “I want to buy your airplane.”

I’m thinking that this is an incredible conversation. “It’s not for sale, Howard,” I reply. “I’m going to fly it in the Bendix.”

“I don’t want to fly it in the Bendix,” he answers. “I want to fly it cross-continental.”

“So do I,” I say.

Howard Hughes and I negotiated over the Northrop Gamma for about four weeks. . . Howard wanted my Northrop so badly, but it would break my heart to consider handing over my rights to it. . . when he offered to rent it, with an option to buy, I caved in. . . .

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, at 152–153.

When Hughes took possession of the Gamma 2G, he had the Pratt & Whitney engine replaced with a 1,823.129 cubic-inch (29.785 liter) Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-G5 nine-cylinder radial engine, and a three bladed-Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). The engine used a bell-shaped cowling similar to that of Hughes’ H-1 Racer. The engine had a Normal Power rating of 830 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m to 4,300 feet (1,311 meters), and 930 horsepower for Takeoff. This engine did not yet have government certification. Three additional fuselage tanks were installed, increasing the Gamma’s fuel capacity to 690 gallons. Hughes did not submit the Gamma for Department of Commerce inspection and licensing. It was not approved in the new configuration.

Jackie Cochran took the Gamma back from Hughes and had the Twin Wasp Jr. reinstalled, and submitted a new application for registration 31 March 1936. This was approved 28 April 1936, and the Gamma received a restricted registration, NR13761. It was damaged beyond repair after an emergency landing, 10 July 1936.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NR13761, at Newark, New Jersey, 14 January 1936. (UNLV Libraries Digital Collection)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13237

² With Northrop unable to repair the airplane in time for the MacRobertson Race, at the last minute Jackie Cochran entered with a different airplane (a Granville Brothers Gee Bee R-6H).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1980

A Mooney M20K, similar to the one flown by Alan Gerharter from San Francsico to Washinto, D.C., taking off at San Jose, California. The landing gear is retracting. (Rich Snyder — Jetarazzi Photography)
A Mooney M20K, similar to the one flown by Alan Gerharter from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., taking off at San Jose, California. The landing gear is retracting. (Rich Snyder — Jetarazzi Photography)
Alan W. Gerharter, ATP, CFI. (AOPA)
Alan W. Gerharter, ATP, CFI. (AOPA)

7 January 1980: In response to a challenge, Alan W. Gerharter, Chief Flight Instructor of Logan and Reavis Air, Inc., Medford, Oregon, flew a four-place, single-engine Mooney M20K, N231LR, serial number 25-0025, from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Washington National Airport (DCA) in 8 hours, 4 minutes, 25 seconds.

This qualified as a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and U.S. National Speed Record of 486.20 kilometers per hour (302.11 miles per hour).¹

Gerharter had beaten the previous record held by a Malvern Gross, Jr., ² flying a Cessna T210, N5119V, by 3 hours, 3 minutes, 23 seconds. When Gerharter arrived at DCA, Gross was there to meet him.

Gerharter had made temporary modifications to the Mooney for this flight. He had two 25 gallon (94.6 liter) fuel tanks mounted in place of the rear seats, bringing the airplane’s total fuel capacity to 122 gallons (462 liters). The right front seat was removed and two oxygen tanks installed. In an effort to reduce aerodynamic drag, he removed the boarding step at the trailing edge of the right wing.

Waiting for advantageous weather, Alan Gerharter took off from SFO at 6:49 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, 7 January 1980. He climbed to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and adjusted his power settings to 75%. Though he had meticulously planned a Great Circle Route, electrical problems caused his primary navigation system and autopilot to fail, so he had to navigate by magnetic compass and clock as he made his way across the country. The airplane used 103 gallons (390 liters) of fuel during the flight.Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 08.56.45Alan Gerharter’s World and National Records still stand.

A flight of four Mooney M20Ks. The lead airplane is teh world and national record holder Mooney 231 N231LR. (Photograph courtesy of Al Gerharter)
A flight of four Mooney M20Ks. The lead airplane is the world and national record holder, Mooney 231 N231LR. (Photograph courtesy of Alan W. Gerharter)

The Mooney M20K is an all-metal, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane is 25 feet, 5 inches (7.747 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 1 inch (10.998 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 3 inches (2.516 meters). Its empty weight is 1,800 pounds (816.5 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms).

The M20K is powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected and turbocharged, 359.656-cubic-inch-displacement (5.894 liter) Teledyne Continental TSIO-360-GB-1 horizontally-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engine. It has a compression ration of 7.5:1 and is rated at 210 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 40.0 inches manifold pressure (1.365 Bar). The engine turns a two-bladed McCauley constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 2 inches (1.879 meters). Most TSIO-360-GB engines still in service have been converted to the TSIO-360-LB configuration. The -LB is 2 feet, 3.53 inches (0.699 meters) high, 2 feet, 7.38 inches (0.797 meters) wide and 4 feet, 8.97 inches (1.447 meters) long. It has a dry weight of 343.35 pounds (155.74 kilograms).

The Mooney M20K was marketed as the Mooney 231, a reference to its top speed of 201 knots at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), or 231.3 miles per hour (372.25 kilometers per hour). The M20K has a Maximum Structural Cruising Speed (VNO) of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour), and a Never Exceed Speed (VNE) of 225 miles per hour (362.1 kilometers per hour). The airplane has a maximum operating altitude of 24,000 feet (7,315 meters).

The M20K was certified in 1979, 24 years after the original M20 entered production, and it was produced until 1998. The M20 series continued in production with follow-on models until 2008.

The transcontinental speed record Mooney 231, N231LR, covered with dust in a hangar at Clovis Municipal Airport, New Mexico, 7 January 2012. (D&D Aircraft)
The transcontinental speed record-setting Mooney 231, N231LR, covered with dust in a hangar at Clovis Municipal Airport (CVN), Texico, New Mexico, 7 January 2012. (D&D Aviation)

Mooney M20K N231LR was issued an Airworthiness Certificate on 27 December 1978. It is currently registered to a management corporation in Wilmington, Delaware.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13854: Speed Over a Recognised Course, 486.20 kilometers per hour (302.11 miles per hour), 7 January 1980. Current Record.

² FAI Record File Number 965: Speed Over a Recognised Course, 352.36 kilometers per hour (218.95 miles per hour). FAI Record File Number 966: Speed Over a Recognised Course, 384.03 kilometers per hour (238.63 miles per hour). Both records were set 1 January 1977.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1945

Bell-Atlanta B-29B-60-BA Superfortress 44-84061, the Pacusan Dreamboat. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell-Atlanta B-29B-60-BA Superfortress 44-84061, the Pacusan Dreamboat. (U.S. Air Force)

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).

Lieutenant General Clarence S. Irvine, U.S. Air Force

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.

Colonel Clarence S. Irvine (standing, left) with the crew of Pacusan Dreamboat: W.J.Benett, G.F.Broughton, Dock West, W.S. O’Hara, F.S. O’Leary, K.L. Royer, F.J.Shannon, J.A. Shinnault, G.R. Stanley. (FAI)
Colonel Clarence S. Irvine (standing, left) with the crew of Pacusan Dreamboat: W.J. Benett, G.F. Broughton, Dock West, W.S. O’Hara, F.S. O’Leary, K.L. Royer, F.J. Shannon, J.A. Shinnault, G.R. Stanley. (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 December 1945

The second prototype Douglas XB-42, 43-50225, In this photograph, the dual bubble canopies have been replaced with a single canopy to improve flight crew communication. (U.S. Air Force)
The second prototype Douglas XB-42, 43-50225, In this photograph, the dual bubble canopies have been replaced with a single canopy to improve flight crew communication. (U.S. Air Force)

8 December 1945: Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden and Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Army Air Corps, flew the second prototype Douglas XB-42, serial number 43-50225, from Long Beach, California to Washington, D.C., in 5 hours, 17 minutes, 34 seconds, averaging 433.6 miles per hour (697.8 kilometers per hour).

The XB-42 (originally designated as an attack aircraft, XA-42) was as unusual design. It used two engines inside the fuselage to drive counter-rotating three-bladed propellers in a pusher configuration at the tail. This created a very low-drag aircraft that was much faster than similar sized and powered aircraft.

Douglas XB-42 43-50225, the second prototype. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas XB-42 43-50225, the second prototype. (U.S. Air Force)

A pilot and co-pilot sat side-by-side under separate bubble canopies. (This was later changed to improve communication between the crew.) The third crewman, a navigator/bombardier, occupied the nose. The co-pilot also served as a gunner and could operate four remotely-controlled .50-caliber machine guns located in two retractable power turrets inside the trailing edge of the wings. Another two .50-caliber machine guns were fixed, aimed forward. The bomber was designed to carry a 8,000 pound (3,629 kilogram) bomb load.

Douglas XB-42 43-50224 takes off from Palm Springs, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-42 was powered several variants of the Allison Engineering Company E-series V-1710 engines, confiured as combined power assembles, and driving a remote propeller gear box through five Bell P-39 Airacobra driveshafts. The starboard engine turned counter-clockwise and drove the rear propeller. The port engine turned clockwise and drove the forward propeller. These engines were the V-1710-E23 (V-1710-103), V-1710-E24 (V -1710-125) and V-1710-E23B (V-1710-129). The V-1710 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 aircraft engine with four valves per cylinder. The engines used in the XB-42 had two-stage superchargers and turbosuperchargers.

The V-1710-129 was an experimental turbocompound engine, in which an exhaust-driven turbocharger is coupled to the drive shaft to provide a direct power input. It had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and required 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The V-1710-129 had a continuous power rating of 1,050 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and takeoff/military power rating of 1,675 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. (1,100 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) ). The engines turned three-bladed, counter-rotating, Curtiss Electric propellers through a 2.773:1 gear reduction. The forward propeller had a diameter of 13 feet, 2 inches (4.013 meters) and the rear diameter was 13 feet (3.962 meters). The difference was to prevent interference of the blade tip vortices.

Douglas XB-42 43-50224. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas XB-42 43-50224. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane was 53 feet, 8 inches long (16.358 meters), with a wingspan of 70 feet, 6 inches (21.488 meters). Empty weight was 20,888 pounds (9,475 kilograms), with a maximum gross weight of 35,702 pounds (16,194 kilograms). The prototype’s cruising speed was 310 miles per hour (499 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed was 410 miles per hour (660 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). The service ceiling was 29,400 feet (8,961 meters). The XB-42’s normal range was 1,840 miles (2,961 kilometers).

Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force (1918–1948)
Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force (1918–1948)

Glen W. Edwards graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and soon after enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in February 1942 after completing flight training. Edwards flew 50 combat missions in the Douglas A-20 Havoc attack bomber during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of World War II. He returned to the United States and was assigned to the Pilot Standardization Board, but was then sent to train as a test pilot at Wright Field. He tested the Northrop XB-35 flying wing and the Convair XB-46. He was recommended to fly the Bell X-1 rocket plane, but when that assignment went to Chuck Yeager, Edwards was sent to Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, to study aeronautical engineering.

Captain Edwards was killed along with four others while test flying the Northrop YB-49 “Flying Wing” in 1948. In 1949, Muroc Air Force Base, California, was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

General Reuben C. Hood congratulates Captain Glen Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Warden after their record-setting transcontinental flight, 8 December 1945. ( © Bettman/CORBIS.)
(Left to right) Brigadier General Reuben C. Hood, Jr., congratulates Captain Glen W. Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Warden after their record-setting transcontinental flight, 8 December 1945. ( © Bettman/CORBIS.)

Colonel Henry E. (“Pete”) Warden (1915–2007) flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks with the 20th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippine Islands at the beginning of World War II. He  was evacuated from Bataan to Australia, where he set up and ran the air logistics system for several years, before being sent to Wright Field.

After World War II, Warden was responsible for the development of the Convair B-36, Boeing B-47 and the Boeing B-52. He was called the “Father of the B-52.” After retiring from the Air Force, Colonel Warden went to work for North American Aviation on the B-70 Valkyrie program.

XB-42 43-50224 flew for the first time 1 August 1944. On 16 December 1945, it was on a routine flight from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., with Lieutenant Colonel Fred J. Ascani in command, when a series of failures caused the crew to bail out. The XB-42 crashed at Oxon Hill, Maryland and was destroyed.

The second prototype, 43-50225, is in storage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The first prototype XB-42, 43-50224, at Palm Springs, California, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype XB-42, 43-50224, at Palm Springs, California, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 November 1957

Captain Ray C. Schrecengost with "Cin-Min," McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo 56-0156 (Boeing)
Captain Ray W. Schrecengost with “Cin-Min,” McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-0166 (Boeing)
Operation Sun Run #2, McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo 56-164. (Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum via Ron Downey Aviation Archives)
Operation Sun Run #2, McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-164. This airplane was written off in South Carolina, 10 October 1960. (Photograph courtesy of Ron Downey via Aviation Archives)
McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-0165, Sun-Run, flown for Operation Sun Run, 27 November 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-165, Operation Sun-Run #3. This airplane was shot down over North Vietnam, 5 December 1966. The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Leonard Warren, 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, safely ejected and was in radio contact for two hours after parachuting to the ground. He reported that he was taking fire, and contact was lost. He was listed as Missing in Action. His remains were recovered 17 September 1986 and were buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation Sun Run #4, McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo 56-166, flown by Captain Ray C. Schrecengost, U.S. Air Force. (Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum via Ron Downey)
Operation Sun Run #4, McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-166, flown by Captain Ray C. Schrecengost, U.S. Air Force. This airplane is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.  (Photograph courtesy of Ron Downey via Aviation Archives)
Operation Sun-Run #5
Operation Sun-Run #5, McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-167. This airplane was written off 24 July 1964. (Photograph courtesy of Ron Downey via Aviation Archives)

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.

“Operation Sun Run participants, L–R: Capt. Ray W. Schrecengost, Capt. Robert J. Kilpatrick, Capt. Donald D. Hawkins, Maj. Stanley R. Sebring (18th TRS commanding officer, Operation Sun Run operations officer), Lt. Col. William H. Nelson (9th AF, Operation Sun Run programs officer), Capt. Robert E. Burkhart, Capt. Robert M. Sweet, Lt. Gustav B. Klatt. (U.S. Air Force)”

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

McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-166. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo 56-166. (U.S. 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.

Colonel Ray W. Schrecengost's McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo, 56-166, was named Cin-Min for his daughters, Cindy and Mindy. The Voodoo is painted in camouflage as it appeared when assigned to the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam. It was one of the first aircraft camouflaged for combat in SEA. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Ray W. Schrecengost’s McDonnell RF-101C-40-MC Voodoo, 56-166, was named “Cin-Min” for his daughters, Cindy and Mindy. The Voodoo is painted in camouflage as it appeared when assigned to the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam. It was one of the first aircraft camouflaged for combat in Southeast Asia. 56-166 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Schrek's Cin-Min on the Sun Run" by William S. Phillips at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, depicts Colonel Schre 's McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo. (U.S. Air Force)
“Schrek’s Cin-Min on the Sun Run” by William S. Phillips, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, depicts Colonel Schrecengost’s McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo. (U.S. Air Force)

A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available on YouTube:

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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