16 July 1953: Lieutenant Colonel William F. Barns, United States Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) absolute World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course at the low-altitude course at the Salton Sea, California. ¹
Colonel Barns flew this North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre, serial number 51-6145, a radar-equipped all-weather interceptor. Lieutenant Colonel Barns was the Air Material Command’s pilot representative at the North American Aviation Los Angeles plant. The Sabre was a standard production airplane, the first Block 35 model built. It was fully loaded with twenty-four 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) aerial rockets.
Barns made the FAI-required four passes—two in each direction—in the Sabre interceptor. His four passes were timed at 720.574, 710.515, 721.351, and 710.350 miles per hour. (1,159.651, 1,143.463, 1,160.902, and 1,143.198 kilometers per hour).
Barns averaged 715.745 miles per hour (1,151.88 kilometers per hour) at only 125 feet (38 meters) above the surface. The air temperature was 105 °F. (40.5 °C.)
The surface of the Salton Sea is -236 feet (-71.9 meters)—below Sea Level. Barns’ Sabre was flying at -111 feet (-33.8 meters). Under these conditions, the speed of sound, Mach 1, was 794 miles per hour (1,278 kilometers per hour), so the margin between the record speed and the onset of transonic compressibility effects was increased. Barns’ Sabre reached a maximum 0.91 Mach under these conditions.
The Associated Press reported the event:
Air Force Colonel Breaks Record
THERMAL, Calif. (AP)—An Air Force colonel flashed to a new air speed record of 715.7 miles per hour Thursday in a north American F-86D Sabre Jet.
Skimming over the hot beach of Southern California’s Salton Sea, Lt. Col. William F. Barns, 32, broke the record set last Nov. 19 over the same run by Capt. J. Slade Nash of Edwards Air Force Base.
On his first try, Barns averaged 713.6 miles per hour, a record performance, but came back a half hour later to beat that.
The airplane could not exceed 500 meters altitude (1,640 feet) at any time after takeoff on the trial, and the 3-kilometer dash had to be made below 100 meters (328 feet).
—The Daily Illini, 17 July 1953, Vol. 82, Number 189, at Page 1, Column 2.
The same F-86D, 51-6145, flown by Captain Harold E. Collins, set an FAI World Record for Speed Over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course of 1,139.219 kilometers per hour (707.878 miles per hour) at Vandalia. Ohio, 1 September 1953. ²
William Frederick Barns was born 30 August 1920 at Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of Claude Cox Barns and Nellie C. Hedrick Barns. The family moved to the Hawaiian Islands in 1925. He attended Theordore Roosevelt High School, in Honolulu. In 1940, William was employed as a clerk at the Bishop National Bank.
Barns began civilian flight training at John Rodgers Field near Honolulu in 1941, and was at the airfield during the attack on the Hawaiian Islands by the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. Barns enlisted in U.S. Army Air Corps 13 April 1942. He had brown hair and eyes, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall, and weighed 138 pounds. After qualifying as a pilot at Luke Field, Arizona, Barns was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces.
During World War II, Barns flew 210 combat missions with the 324th Fighter Group. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Star.
Colonel Barns married Miss Marylouise Hamilton at the Flyer’s Chapel of the Mission Inn, Riverside, California, 18 August 1947. They had two children, Terrie and Bill. At the time of Barn’s world speed record, the family resided in Palos Verdes Estates, a few miles south of the North American factory.
Colonel Barns retired from the U.S. Air Force, 31 May 1966. He died in Phoenix, Arizona, 17 April 1995.
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 radar and armed with twenty-four unguided 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) diameter Mark 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly.
The aircraft was so complex that the pilot training course was the longest of any aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, including the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.
The F-86D was larger than the F-86A, E and F fighters, with a wider fuselage. Its length was increased to 40 feet, 3 inches (12.268 meters) with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.5 inches (11.316 meters), and its height is 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). The interceptor had an empty weight of 13,518 pounds (6,131.7 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 19,975 pounds (9,060.5 kilograms). It retained the leading edge slats of the F-86A, F-86E and early F-86F fighters. The horizontal stabilizer and elevators were replaced by a single, all-moving stabilator. All flight controls were hydraulically boosted. A “clamshell” canopy replaced the sliding unit of earlier models
The F-86D was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 engine. This was a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with afterburner. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-17 was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. It had a normal (continuous) power rating of 4,990 pounds of thrust (22.20 kilonewtons); military power, 5,425 pounds (24.13 kilonewtons) (30 minute limit), and maximum 7,500 pounds of thrust (33.36 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15 minute limit). (All power ratings at 7,950 r.p.m.) It was 18 feet, 10.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).
The maximum speed of the F-86D was 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 532 knots (612 miles per hour/985 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and 504 knots (580 miles per hour/933 kilometers per hour)at 47,800 feet (14,569 meters).
The F-86D had an area intercept range of 241 nautical miles (277 statute miles/446 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). The maximum ferry range with external tanks was 668 nautical miles (769 statute miles/1,237 kilometers). Its initial rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second) from Sea Level at 16,068 pounds (7,288 kilograms). From a standing start, the F-86D could reach its service ceiling in 22.2 minutes.
The F-86D was armed with twenty-four 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) unguided Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads. They were carried in a retractable tray, and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12, or 24 rockets. The FFAR was a solid-fuel rocket. The 7.55 pound (3.43 kilogram) warhead was proximity-fused, or could be set for contact detonation, or to explode when the rocket engine burned out.
The F-86D’s radar could detect a target at 30 miles (48 kilometers). The fire control system calculated a lead-collision-curve and provided guidance to the pilot through his radar scope. Once the interceptor was within 20 seconds of its target, the pilot selected the number of rockets to fire and pulled the trigger, which armed the system. At a range of 500 yards (457 meters), the fire control system launched the rockets.
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, the world-record-setting Sabre, 51-6145, was transferred to NATO ally, the Royal Hellenic Air Force.
¹ FAI Record File Number 9868
² FAI Record File Number 8869
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes