Tag Archives: Transcontinental Flight

21 May 1955, 05:59:45–17:26:18 PST

1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (Ralph Morse, LIFE Magazine, via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1955: At 05:59:45 Pacific Standard Time (13:59:45 UTC) 1st Lieutenant John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, U.S. Air Force, a World War II B-17 pilot and former Prisoner of War, took off from the California Air National Guard Base at the San Fernando Valley Airport (re-named Van Nuys Airport in 1957). His airplane was a specially-prepared North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre, USAF serial number 49-1046. His Destination? Van Nuys, California—by way of Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. His plan was to return to the ANG base in “The Valley” before sunset.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, "California Boomerang." (California State Military Museum)
North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, “California Boomerang.” (California State Military Museum)

Several weeks of planning and preparation were involved in “Operation Boomerang”. Five refueling stops would be required and Air National Guard personnel across the United States would handle that. A deviation from peacetime standards would allow the Sabre to be refueled with the engine running to minimize time spent on the ground. (The F-86 was not capable of inflight refueling.) The six-year-old F-86A was polished to ensure that all rivet heads were smooth, seams in the fuselage and wing skin panels were adjusted for precise fit, then were sealed. The gun ports for the six .50-caliber Browning machine guns in the fighter’s nose were filled then covered with doped fabric and painted. This was to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible. The General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet was overhauled, then tested and adjusted for maximum efficiency.

Arrangements for official timing of the West to East and Back Again speed run were paid for by North American Aviation, Inc., whose personnel also provided technical support to the Air National Guard.

Jack Conroy’s F-86A was nicknamed California Boomerang, and had a map of the United States and a boomerang painted on the fuselage. The Sabre remained in its overall natural aluminum finish but had green stripes on the fuselage, vertical fin and wings.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its record flight at Van Nuys, California. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its return flight at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

After takeoff, Lieutenant Conroy climbed to approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and headed to his first refueling stop at Denver, Colorado. He landed at 7:48 a.m. PST and the Sabre was refueled and off again in just 6 minutes. From Denver he continued eastward to Springfield, Illinois, arriving at 9:32 a.m. PST. Refueling there took 5 minutes. The next stop was Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. He touched down at 11:19 a.m., PST and remained on the ground for 39 minutes.

Conroy departed Mitchel Field on the westbound leg at 11:58 a.m. PST and arrived at Lockburne Air Force Base, Ohio at 12:58 p.m., PST. This refueling stop required 7 minutes. Next on the flight plan was Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airplane landed there at 2:26 p.m. PST, and was refueled and airborne again in 6 minutes. The last refueling took place at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lieutenant Conroy landed at 3:58 p.m., PST. After another 7 minute stopover, California Boomerang took off on the final leg of the round-trip journey, finally landing back at Van Nuys, California at 5:26:18 p.m., PST.

John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast “dawn to dusk” flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour). Weather across the country caused some delays as Jack Conroy had to make instrument approaches to three of the airports.

California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy's California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy’s California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being “hot” refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. At least six fueling hoses are simultaneously filling the fighter’s fuselage, wing and drop tanks tanks while the jet engine remains in operation. Note the fire fighting apparatus standing by in the background. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

California Boomerang, North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, is on display as a “gate guard” at the entrance to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, adjacent to Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California.

North American Aviation F-86A Sabre 49-1046 at the entrance to the Channel Islands National Guard Station, Point Mugu, California. (Goleta Air and Space Museum_
North American Aviation F-86A Sabre 49-1046 at the entrance to the Channel Islands National Guard Station, Point Mugu, California. (Brian Lockett, Goleta Air and Space Museum)

© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes

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2–3 May 1923

Lieutenants John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly with their Fokker T-2. (NASM)
Captain John A. Macready, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air force)

2–3 May 1923: Air Service, United States Army, pilots Lieutenant John Arthur Macready and Lieutenant Oakley George Kelly made the first non-stop transcontinental flight. Their airplane was a Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker T-2 single-engine monoplane, U.S. Army serial number A.S. 64233.

The two aviators took off from Roosevelt-Hazelhurst Field, Long Island, New York, at 12:30 p.m., Eastern Time, and landed at Rockwell Field (now, NAS North Island), San Diego, California, the next day at 12:26 p.m., Pacific Time. They had flown 2,470 miles (3,975 kilometers) in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.8 seconds, for an average speed of 91.996 miles per hour (148.053 kilometers per hour).

Macready and Kelly had made two previous attempts, flying West-to-East to take advantage of prevailing winds and the higher octane gasoline available in California. The first flight was terminated by weather, and the second by engine failure.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 (FAI)
Fokker T-2 A.S. 64233 (FAI)

The Fokker F.IV was built by Anthony Fokker’s Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands, in 1921. The Air Service purchased two and designated the type T-2, with serial numbers A.S. 64233 and A.S. 64234.

Several modifications were made to prepare the T-2 for the transcontinental flight. Normally flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit, a second set of controls was installed so that the airplane could be controlled from inside while the two pilots changed positions. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the wing and cabin.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223. (Sally M. Macready Foundation Collection/NASM)

The Fokker F.IV was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit which was offset to the left of the airplane’s centerline. The airplane was designed to carry 8–10 passengers in an enclosed cabin. The F.IV was a scaled-up version of the preceding F.III. It was built of a welded tubular steel fuselage, covered with three-ply plywood. The wing structure had plywood box spars and ribs, and was also covered with three-ply plywood.

For its time, the Fokker was a large airplane. Measurements from the Fokker T-2 at the Smithsonian Institution are: 49 feet, 10 inches (15.189 meters) long, with a wing span of 80 feet, 5 inches (24.511 meters), and height 12 feet, 2 inches (3.708 meters). On this flight, it carried 735 gallons (2,782 liters) of gasoline in three fuel tanks. When it took off from Long Island, the gross weight of the T-2 was 10,850 pounds (4,922 kilograms), only a few pounds short of its maximum design weight.

Fokker T-2, A.S. 64223. (The biplane is a Verville-Sperry M-1.) (Harris & Ewing)

The Fokker F.IV was offered with a choice of engines: A Rolls-Royce Eagle IX V-12, Napier Lion II “broad arrow” W-12, or Liberty L-12 V-12. The T-2 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Ford-built Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. (Serial number A.S. No. 5142) The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. Installed on A.S. 64233, the engine turned turned a two-bladed Curtiss fixed-pitch walnut propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 5 inches (3.175 meters). The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

Lieutenant Oakley G. Kelly, U.S. Army Air Service (FAI)
First Lieutenant Oakley G. Kelly, U.S. Army Air Service (FAI)

John Macready and Oakley Kelley won the 1923 Mackay Trophy for this flight. Macready had previously won the award in 1921 and 1922. He is the only pilot to have won it three times.

During testing to determine the feasibility of the flight, on 16–17 April 1923, Lieutenant Kelly and Lieutenant Macready set six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for speed, distance and duration, flying the Fokker T-2. At Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, they flew 2,500 kilometers (1,553.428 miles) at an average speed of 115.60 kilometers per hour (51.83 miles per hour); 3,000 kilometers (1,864.114 miles) at 115.27 kilometers per hour (71.63 miles per hour); 3,500 kilometers (2,174.799 miles) at 114.82 kilometers per hour (71.35 miles per hour); 4,000 kilometers (2,485.485 miles) at 113.93 kilometers per hour (70.79 miles per hour); flew a total distance of 4,050 kilometers (2,517 miles); and stayed aloft for 36 hours, 4 minutes, 34 seconds. Their overall average speed was 112.26 kilometers per hour (69.76 miles per hour) seconds.

The United States Army transferred Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223, to the Smithsonian Institution in January 1924. It is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

U.S. Army Air Service Fokker T-2, A.S. 64223, on display at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 April 1944

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

17 April 1944: The first production Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, was delivered to the Air Transport Command at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia. The new transport carried the markings of Transcontinental and Western Airlines (T.W.A.), and was flown by that company’s owner, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., and T.W.A.’s president, William John (“Jack”) Frye.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 ready to depart Lockheed Air Terminal, 17 April 1944. (Image scanned from Queen of the Skies, by Claude G. Luisada. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2014. Chapter 5, Page 76, Fig. 5–1.)

The C-69 departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:56:45 a.m., Pacific War Time. The other crew members were Edward T. Bolton, Navigator; R. L. Proctor, Flight Engineer; and Charles L. Glover, Radio Operator. Also on board were 12 passengers representing the Air Corps, T.W.A. and Lockheed.¹

The Dayton Herald reported:

Constellation Sets Record; To Be in Dayton Thursday

(BULLETIN)

     WASHINGTON, April 17.—(UP)—The giant transport Constellation landed at Washington National Airport at 1:59 p.m. EWT today, setting a new trans-continental airplane speed record.

     The huge four-motor transport made the crossing from Burbank, Calif., in approximately 7 hours and three minutes on the basis of unofficial timing. Howard Hughes, who set the previous record, piloted the plane here for delivery to the Army.

     The Constellation, Transcontinental and Western Airline’s (TWA) super transport, which left Burbank, Calif., today for delivery to the air transport command at Washington, will fly to Wright Field Thursday afternoon, Material Command officials said here.

Considered the largest land-based cargo plane in the country, the “Constellation” took off from Lockheed Air Terminal at 5:56 a.m., (Dayton time) today with veteran pilot Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, TWA president, co-designers of the plane, as pilot and co-pilot, respectively. It passed over Butler Mo., 50 miles south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m. (Dayton time).

     Materiel Command officials said the plane was expected to make the trip in nine hours. They estimated she could fly from Los Angeles, Calif., to Honolulu in 12 hours.

     Also aboard were Lt. Col. Clarence Shoop, resident Material Command inspector at the Lockheed Burbank plant, 17 Lockheed and TWA technical experts and a civilian air expert.

     The ship originally was designed to carry 57 passengers, TWA officials said. The airline company commissioned Lockheed to build the plane two years ago.

     Hughes described the trip as a “routine delivery mission” and would not say whether he would attempt to break any speed records or whether the flight would be non-stop.

     “It all depends on the performance of the Connie,” he said.

     The 40-ton ship, which has a cruising speed of 300 miles an hour, took off with enough gasoline for a non-stop trip. Cargo and airline planes in general use now cruise at around 180 miles an hour. Her takeoff was clocked by Larry Therkelsen, National Aeronautical Association timekeeper and official timer of the national air races before the war.

     The Constellation is powered by four, 2,000-horsepower Wright air-cooled, radial engines, with 18 cylinders each, the Materiel Command said. It has three-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers and is equipped with a pressurized cabin for stratosphere flights. Its service ceiling is from 20,000 to 35,000 feet.

The Dayton Herald, Vol. 65, No. 91, Monday, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, c/n 049-1962, was the first production airplane. It had been flown to Las Vegas, Nevada, on the previous day, where T.W.A. personnel applied the company’s livery to the Army Air Corps-owned airplane. Flown by Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Shoup, it then returned to Burbank to prepare for the transcontinental flight.

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The plan called for Howard Hughes to fly as pilot-in-command for the first half of the flight, with Captain Frye in the right seat. They would switch positions at the half-way point. Both men were experienced four-engine pilots but the Constellation was new to them. In the previous week, they had each made two training flights in the C-69, with Hughes flying 2.9 hours and Frye, 3.4.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962), the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00013)

Initially, the transport followed T.W.A.’s normal transcontinental route. It had climbed to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) by the time it reached Kingman, Arizona. The night sky was “CAVU”—ceiling and visibility unrestricted—and there was a bright last-quarter moon shining. Passing north of Winslow, Arizona, the C-69 left the T.W.A. route and turned north to pick up a Great Circle course.

Flying over northern New Mexico, they encountered turbulence and thunderclouds. Hughes climbed to 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) to remain clear of the clouds. Light ice began forming on the airplane as they crossed over Kansas. They climbed into colder, drier air at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00019)

Over the eastern part of the state, Jack Frye took over as pilot command and he and Hughes switched places in the cockpit. The C-69 crossed over Butler, Missouri, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m., Central War Time (8:20 a.m., P.W.T.).

—ST. LOUIS STAR-TIMES, Vol. 58—No. 168, Monday Evening, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

The Constellation crossed overhead Cincinnati, Ohio, at 11:48 a.m., C.W.T. Stormy weather delayed their descent until after crossing the Ohio River.

The Constellation flew overhead National Airport at 1:54 p.m., Eastern War Time (10:54 a.m., P.W.T.). They circled overhead while traffic cleared the runway, then landed four minutes later.

The Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, flown by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, lands at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, at 1:58 p.m., E.W.T., 17 April 1944. Image edited. (Original image: UNLV Digital Collection whh 001297).

The C-69’s log book showed the Burbank to overhead National Airport flight as having taken 6 hours, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.² The Aircraft Yearbook for 1945 gives the record time as “6 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds.” ³

Because of wartime security concerns, the Air Corps would not allow Lockheed or TWA to release specific information about the flight, other than to say that it had broken the existing transcontinental speed record. The Great Circle distance from Lockheed Air Terminal to Washington National is 2,000 nautical miles (2,302 statute miles/3,705 kilometers). Assuming that the route was flown without any deviations, the average speed of the C-69 would have been 288 knots (331 miles per hour/533 kilometers per hour).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001301)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001302)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310, wheels stop. National Airport, 17 April 1944. (LIFE Magazine)

At the time, the only airplanes which were larger than the C-69 were the prototype Douglas B-19 long range bomber and the Martin Mars flying boat. A large crowd watched the arrival of the new airplane. Dignitaries meeting the flight were General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, Chief the U.S. Army Air Forces, and Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones, with Oswald Ryan and Josh Lee of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Secretary of Commerce Jesse Holman Jones, Howard Hughes and Jack Frye. “She performed perfectly marvelously,” said Frye. “She handled like a pursuit ship and flies like a dream.” (UNLV Digital Collections whh001313)
Flight crew and passengers of transcontinental flight. Howard Hughes is 8th from left.  (UNLV Digital Collection whh01324)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001317)

After the arrival ceremonies, the new Lockheed C-69 Constellation was handed over to the Air Corps Air Transport Command and taken to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to begin its military flight tests.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 after rollout at Lockheed Burbank, August 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

As stated above, 43-10310, c/n 1962, was the first production C-69 Constellation, following the XC-69 prototype, 43-10309, c/n 1961. It had been designed and built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Burbank, California, for Transcontinental and Western Airlines. The C-69 made its first flight in August 1943, and remained with Lockheed for manufacturer’s tests.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The C-69 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R3500–35 (Cyclone 18 711C18BA2) engines. Also known as the Duplex Cyclone, these were a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.85:1, which required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff (five minute limit), The 745C18BA2 was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,707 pounds (1,228 kilograms). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. Wright produced 58 of these engines between August 1942 and October 1944.

The C-69 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

During the War, Lockheed Constellations were operated for the War Department by T.W.A. and Pan American Airways.

On 31 March 1947,  War Assets Administration sold 43-10310 for spare parts. It was salvaged to repair other C-69 and L-049 airplanes.

In 1952, Lockheed rebuilt -310 for Inter-National Airways, Inc., which leased it to Flying Tiger Line. It was assigned civil registration NC38936.

NC38936 was destroyed by fire after landing accident during training/certification flight at Burbank, 22 January 1953.

Lockheed Martin C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Fire Destroys Huge Plane on L.A. Test Hop

     A rebuilt, four-engine Constellation was destroyed by fire last night seconds after it landed at Lockheed Air Terminal. Ten persons aboard the aircraft escaped without injury.

     The huge craft, owned by Inter-Continental Airways, Inc., had made its second test landing for two Civil Aeronautics Authority when the main landing-gear section burst into flames which quickly spread to the fuselage and other parts of the ship, according to airport tower observers.

     The plane’s landing gear apparently failed to function properly as the ship touched down and caused the plane to skid on its belly with the propellers scraping the runway, according to the observers.

Changes in Plane

     The Constellation was the second in the C-69 series built by Lockheed Aircraft and during the last two years had undergone changes in construction prior to being chartered by Flying Tiger Lines from the Inter-Continental Airways, according to William Sosnow, purchasing agent for the latter company.

     Burbank and Lockheed Fire Departments fought the fire and kept the flames from spreading to nearby hangars and other aircraft. Fire officials said the plane, valued at $1,000,000, was a total loss.

Final Checkout

     Sosnow said the plane had received CAA partial approval Wednesday and that last night’s pilot training flight was to complete the inspection routine. It was to have flown to Oakland today for its first pay passengers, he said.

     Aboard the plane, Lockheed officials said, were CAA Inspectors M.H. Griffith and Sam Chandler, Senior Pilot C.G. Fredericks, Pilots Lawrence Raab, Sheldon Eichel, August Martin and Leo Gardner; Flight Engineers Frank Lutomski and Robert R. Jackson and Radioman Morris H. Sherry.

     All the crewmen were employed by Inter-Continental.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXI, Friday Morning, 23 January 1953, Part 1, Page 1, Column 3

The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, (BAAA, or B3A) data base states:

“The crew was engaged in a local test flight. On final approach, during the last segment, the crew inadvertently raised the gears. The four engine aircraft belly landed and slid for dozen yards before coming to rest in flames. While all five crew members were unhurt, the aircraft was lost.”

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

¹ LCOL Clarence A. Shoop USAAC. TWA: Lawrence J. Chiappino, Test Pilot; Leo Baron, Robert L. Loomis, pilot; Ed J. Minser, Chief Meteorologist; Orville R. Olson, ch clerk, KC traffic department; Lee Spruill, Richard De Campo, Flight Engineer. Lockheed: Rudy L. Thoren, Chief Flight Test Engineer; Richard Stanton; Thomas Watkins. S.J. Solomon, Chairman, Airlines Committee for Aviation Policy

² TDiA checked with the National Aeronautic Association, which does not have any information about this flight.

³ The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK For 1945, Howard Mingos, Editor. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., Lanciar Publishers, Inc., New York. Chapter IV, Page 123.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 March–6 April 1949

Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)

April 6, 1949: Lieutenant Stewart Ross Graham, United States Coast Guard, and his crewman, Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) Robert McAuliffe, completed the longest unescorted helicopter flight on record. They flew a Sikorsky HO3S-1G, serial number 51-234, from the Coast Guard Air Station, Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, via San Diego, California, covering a distance of 3,750 miles (6,035 kilometers) in 57.6 flight hours over 11 days.

Lieutenant Graham was the first pilot to fly a helicopter from a ship. On 16 January 1944, he flew a Sikorsky YR-4B, serial number 46445, from the deck of a British freighter, SS Daghestan, while in convoy from New York to Liverpool. After 30 minutes, he returned to the freighter. He was a pioneer in the use of the helicopter by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232. (U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232, sister ship of 51-234. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HO3S (Sikorsky S-51) was a second-generation helicopter, capable of carrying a pilot and up to three passengers. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters). It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-5 (Wasp Jr. T1B4) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky built 220 helicopter of the S-51 series.

U.S. Coast Guard HO3S-1G, serial number 51-238, sister ship of Lieutenant Graham’s record-setting helicopter. (USCG/Smithsonian Institution)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 March 1955

Col. Robert R. Scott waves from the cockpit of his Republic F-84F Thunderstreak after completing a record-breaking transcontinental flight, 9 March 1955. (AP Photo)
Lieutenant Richard Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott (in cockpit) after their record-breaking transcontinental flight. (Unattributed)

9 October 1955: Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding officer, 510th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, with Major Robert C. Ruby and Captain Charles T. Hudson, flew their Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks non-stop from Los Angeles Airport (LAX), on the southern California coastline, to overhead Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Two in-flight refuelings from Boeing KB-29 tankers were required.

Colonel Scott’s flight set a new National Aeronautic Association speed record with an elapsed time of 3 hours, 44 minutes, 53.88 seconds.

A newspaper article from the following day describes the event:

2 Des Moines Pilots Break Speed Record

NEW YORK (AP) — Two air force pilots from Des Moines broke the speed record from Los Angeles to New York Wednesday, making a nonstop flight in less than four hours.

Lt. Col. Robert R. Scott, 34, flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter, turned in the fastest time — 3 hours 46 minutes and 33 seconds. He averaged 649 miles an hour.

Just one minute behind was another Des Moines pilot, Maj. Robert C. Ruby, 32. His time was 3:47:33.

The old mark for the 2,445-mile route was 4:06:16, set Jan 2, 1954, by an air national guard pilot.

Refueling Slow

The pilots said they could have made faster time except for slow and obsolete in-flight refueling tanker planes.

A third pilot who shattered the old mark is Capt. Charles T. Hudson, 33, of Gulfport, Miss., who made the flight in 3:49:53.

Eight air force Thunderstreaks left Los Angeles in a mass assault on the record. Five dropped out through failure to make contact with refueling planes or other reasons. All reportedly landed safely.

While setting a Los Angeles–New York record, Scott failed to beat the navy’s time from San Diego, Calif., to New York — 2,438 miles, or seven miles shorter than Wednesday’s flight.

Flew Cougar Jet

Lt. Comdr. Francis X. Brady, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va., flew from San Diego in 3:45:30 on April 1, 1954, flying a Grumman F9F Cougar.

The air force planes flew at about 40,000 feet.

“The tankers used for refueling are much too obsolete and too old,” Scott commented on landing.

The jets had to slow to 200 m.p.h. from almost 650 to take on fuel.

Scott said he refueled twice — once near La Junta, Colo., and once near Rantoul, Ill.

Others Agree

Ruby and Hudson also said they could have made faster time if the tank planes were more modern.

Hudson and Ruby carried extra gas tanks and made one in-flight refueling each. Scott carried no extra gas and had two in-flight refuelings.

1st Lt. James E. Colson of Middleboro, Ky., tried to make it with no refueling. He got as far as Pittsburgh, Pa.

Of the other four unable to complete the flight, one dropped out in California, two in Kansas and one at Sedalia, Mo.

The Daily Iowan, Thursday, March 10, 1955, Page 1, Column 1

Cockpit of Republic F-84F-10-RE Thunderstreak 51-1405. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.

Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Captain Robert Ray Scott (back row, second from left) with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, Chengdu, China 1944. The airplane is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.

In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air force base, Virginia.

Scott was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1960.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. On 26 March 1967 he shot down an enemy MiG-17 fighter near Hanoi with the 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon of his F-105D-6-RE, 59-1772, making him only the second Air Force pilot with air combat victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

Colonel Scott’s final command was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.

Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars.During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak was an improved, swept-wing version of the straight-wing F-84 Thunderjet fighter bomber. The first production Thunderstreak, 51-1346, flew for the first time, 22 May 1952, with company test pilot Russell M. (Rusty”) Roth in the cockpit.

The F-84F was 43 feet, 4¾ inches (13.227 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 7¼ inches (10.243 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 4¾ inches (4.388 meters). The wings were swept aft 40° at 25% chord. Their angle of incidence was 1° 30′ and there was no twist. The F-84F had 3° 30′ anhedral. The Thunderstreak had an empty weight if 13,645 pounds (6,189 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 pounds (12,247 kilograms).

The initial F-84F-1-RE aircraft were powered by a Wright J65-W-1 turbojet, a license-built variant of the British Armstrong Siddely Sapphire. Later versions used Wright J65-W-3 and J65-W-7, or Buick J65-B-3 or J65-B-7 engines. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The W-3/B-3 had a continuous power rating of 6,350 pounds of thrust (28.25 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m. It produced 7,220 pounds of thrust (32.12 kilonewtons) at 8,300 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The J65-B-3 was 10 feet, 8.6 inches (3.266 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.7 inches (0.958 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,785 pounds (1,263 kilograms).

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346, the first production airplane, at Farmingdale, New York, 1952. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

The F-84F had a maximum speed of 595 knots (685 miles per hour/1,102 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (0.900 Mach). The fighter bomber could climb at 7,000 feet per minute (36 meters per second). Its service ceiling was 44,450 feet (13,548 meters). The fighter bomber’s maximum ferry range was 2,010 nautical miles (2,313 statute miles/3,723 kilometers).

Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) AN-M3 aircraft machine guns, with two mounted in the wing roots and four in the nose. The were 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. Up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of bombs and rockets could be carried under the wings. A variable-yield Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon could also be carried.

Between 1952 and 1957, 2,112 F-84F Thunderstreaks were built by Republic at Farmingdale, New York, and by General Motors at Kansas City, Kansas. The Thunderstreak served with the United States Air Force and Air National Guard until 1971.

Republic F-84F-5-RE Thunderstreak 51-1366. (Republic Aviation Corporation)
First Lieutenant Richard Bach, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Republic F-84F-35-RE Thunderstreak, 52-6490, at Chaumont Air Base, France, 1962. Richard Bach is the author of the classic aviation novel, “Stranger to the Ground.” (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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