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.
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.
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, 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.
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 with a Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker T-2 single-engine monoplane, 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 92 miles per hour (148 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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. The elapsed time for the Colonel Scott’s flight was 3 hours, 46 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Two in-flight refuelings from Boeing KB-29 tankers were required.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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). It had an empty weight if 14,014 pounds (6,357 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 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. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).
The F-84F had a maximum speed of 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 658 miles per hour (1,059 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet. The fighter bomber could climb at 8,200 feet per minute (41.7 meters per second). Its service ceiling was 46,000 feet (14,021 meters).
Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) AN-M3 aircraft machine guns, with two mounted in the wings and four in the nose. 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.
6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.
Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.
The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).
Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).
This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).
This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.
61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.