Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight

5 December 1961

Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. (U.S. Navy)
Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Commander Ellis is wearing B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (U.S. Navy)

5 December 1961: Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight when he flew the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, to 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) ¹ over Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. The Phantom II maintained this altitude while traveling at Mach 2.2 (1,452 miles per hour, or 2,236 kilometers per hour).

For this flight, Commander Ellis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral George Whelen Anderson, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

This was the same Phantom II which set a world speed record only 13 days earlier, when Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, U.S. Marine Corps, flew it to 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour) in Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961.²

Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, 142260 almost made it into space when Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, used a zoom climb maneuver to fly it to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters) in Operation Top Flight.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142260 was the second prototype of the Phantom II. The world record-holding aircraft is reported to be in storage at the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Gillespie Field Annex restoration facility, El Cajon, California.

Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)

George William Ellis was born at Ardmore, Oklahoma, 22 June 1924. He was the second of three children of Fred Roscoe Ellis, a corporate attorney, and Jeannette Manning Moore Ellis.

He attended Ardmore High School, participated in oratory and was a member of the honor society. After graduating from high school in 1941, Ellis attended the Marion Military Institute, Marion, Alabama. He entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, 11 July 1942, as a midshipman in the Class of 1945. (Because of the war, classes at Annapolis were accelerated.) George Ellis graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 6 June 1945. (Signal No. 25000)

On the same day, Ensign Ellis married Miss Elizabeth Adelheid Schlack at Annapolis. They had one son, John Manning Ellis, who died in infancy. They divorced in 1970. Mrs. Ellis died in 1985.

Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.
Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.

Ensign Ellis served aboard USS Bataan (CVL-29), an Independence-class light aircraft carrier, which was part of Operation Magic Carpet, returning American soldiers home from Europe after the end of World War II, and then repatriating Italian prisoners of war from the United States to Italy. Ellis was then assigned to USS Duluth (CL-87), a Cleveland-class light cruiser, on a cruise to the Far East.

Ensign Ellis was promoted to the rank lieutenant, junior grade, effective 6 June 1948. He was trained as a pilot, and was designated as a Naval Aviator in January 1949. He was assigned to Anti-Submarine Squadron 22 (VS-22, “Checkmates”) at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, flying the TBF/TBM Avenger. Lieutenant (j.g.) Ellis also was assigned to the staff of a carrier division commander, and the went the Advanced Training Command as a flight instructor.

Ellis was promoted to lieutenant, 1 August 1951. He attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, 1954–55. His next operational assignment was to VF-211 (“Checkmates”) aboard USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). The fighter squadron was transitioning from the North American Aviation FJ-3 Fury to the Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader. Ellis was promoted to lieutenant commander, 1 June 1957. He was assigned to VF-124 (“Gunfighters”) at NAS Moffett Field, California, as an instructor and maintenance officer for the F8U.

In June 1959, Lieutenant Commander Ellis attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduating, he was assigned as project pilot on the new McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. He was promoted to Commander with date of rank 1 July 1961.

McDonnell F-4B Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)
McDonnell F-4B-6-MC Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)

In August 1962, Commander Ellis was assigned as executive officer of Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74, “Be-Devilers”) aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), for the first operational deployment of the Phantom II (the F4H-1 was redesignated F-4B in 1962). He took command of VF-211 in May 1963, then in May 1964, took over VF-101 (“Grim Reapers”) at NAS Key West, Florida.

In 1965, Commander Ellis served as the Operations Officer of USS Forrestal, and became the aircraft carrier’s executive officer in 1966. Ellis was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 October 1966. He was then assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer. After his tour at the Pentagon, Captain Ellis went to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at NAS Patuxent River as project manager for the F-8 Crusader Service Life Extension Program.

From 10 December 1968 to 21 January 1970, Captain Ellis commanded USS Arcturus (AF-52), an Alstede-class stores ship. (A “deep-draft command,” that is, command of a large naval ship, is generally considered a prerequisite to being selected for command of an aircraft carrier.)

USS Arcturus (AF-52)
USS Arcturus (AF-52) (BMCS Richard Miller, United States Navy)

After assignment as the head of the Fleet Operations Branch in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Captain Ellis retired from the Navy in 28 February 1973 after 31 years of service.

On 30 November 1974, Captain Ellis married Mrs. Barbara Young Clayton at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Captain Ellis died at Harrisonburg, Virginia, 6 July 2010, at the age of 86 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8535

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1961: From August to October 1961, Jackie Cochran, a consultant to Northrop Corporation, set a series of speed, distance and altitude records while flying a Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon supersonic trainer, serial number 60-0551. On the final day of the record series, she set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records, taking the T-38 to altitudes of 16,841 meters (55,253 feet) in horizontal flight ¹ and reaching a peak altitude of 17,091 meters 56,073 feet). ²

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Famed U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, a close friend of Jackie Cochran, kept notes during the record series:

“October 12  Jackie took off at 9 am in the T-38 using afterburner. Bud Anderson and I chased her in the F-100. It was an excellent flight with everything working perfect. Jackie entered the course at 55,800 feet at .93 Mach and accelerated to radar. At the end of the run Jackie pulled up to 56,800 and then pushed over. She cut the right afterburner at 52,000 feet and the left one at 50,000. At 12,000 feet she removed the face piece from her pressure suit and made a perfect landing on the lake bed.

“Northrop-Air (Norair) presented Miss Cochran with one dozen yellow roses.

“A very tender ending to a wonderful program and a fitting token to a wonderful lady—a pilot who gave Norair much more than they expected.”

— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 307–308.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is powered by two General Electric J85-5A turbojet engines producing 2,050 pounds of thrust (3,850 with afterburner). Jackie Cochran demonstrated its maximum speed, Mach 1.3. It has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and a range of 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers). In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. It remains in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12884

² FAI Record File Number 12855

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 September 1962

Pyotr Maksimovic Ostapenko (Encyclopedia of Safety)
Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko (Encyclopedia of Safety)

11 September 1962: Flying the E-152\1, a record-setting prototype Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor, test pilot Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 22,670 meters (74,377 feet).¹

Profile of Mikoyan-Gurevich E-166
Profile of Mikoyan-Gurevich E-152\1 (testpilot.ru)

In documents submitted to FAI, the E-152\1 was identified as E-166. Colonel Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov made the first flight of the E-152\1 on 21 April 1961. The aircraft displayed at The Central Museum of the Air Forces at Monino, Russia as E-166 is actually the E-152\2, sister ship of the record-setting prototype.

This individual airplane set two other FAI world records. Test Pilot Alexander Vasilievich Fedotov flew it to 2,401 kilometers per hour (1,492 miles per hour) over a 100 kilometer course, 10 October 1961,² and on 7 July 1962, Colonel Mosolov set a world record for speed over a straight 15/25 kilometer course of 2,681 kilometers per hour (1,666 miles per hour).³

The Mikoyan-Gurevich E-152\1 shown with air-to-air missiles and a centerline fuel tank.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich E-152\1 shown with air-to-air missiles and a centerline fuel tank.

The Mikoyan Gurevich E-152\1 is a single-place, single-engine delta-winged prototype all-weather interceptor. It is 19.656 meters (64 feet, 5.4 inches) long  with a wingspan of 8.793 meters (28 feet, 10.2 inches). The leading edge of the wings are swept back to 53° 47′. The E-152\1 had an empty weight of 10,900 kilograms (24,030 pounds) and gross weight of 14,350 kilograms (31,636 pounds).

The prototype was powered by a Tumansky R-15B-300 axial-flow turbojet engine with a five-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. It produced 22,500 pounds of thrust (100.1 kN) with afterburner. This was the first Soviet jet engine to use electronic engine control.

The E-152\1 had a maximum speed Mach 2.82 (2,995 kilometers per hour, 1,861 miles per hour) at 15,400 meters (50,525 feet).

The interceptor prototype had an internal fuel capacity of 4,960 liters (1,310 gallons), and the E-152\1 could carry a 1,500 liter (396 gallon) external fuel tank, giving a maximum range of 1,470 kilometers (913 miles). The service ceiling was 22,680 meters (74,409 feet).

After a two-year test program, E-152\1 and its sistership, E-152\2 were converted to E-152M\1 and E-152M\2.

Mikoyan Gurevich E-152\1
Mikoyan Gurevich E-152\1
Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko
Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko

Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko was born at Cool (or Cold), Kabardino-Balkaria, U.S.S.R, 17 September 1928. His interest in aviation began when, at age 14, he watched an aerial battle between Soviet and German fighters. Ostapenko attended the Armavir Military Aviation School of Pilots at Amravir, Krasnodar Krai, Russia, from 1948 to 1951, and then became an instructor. In 1958 he attended the Ministry of Indutrial Aviation Test Pilot School at Zhukovsky. He was a test pilot for the Mikoyan Design Bureau from 1958 to 1983.

On 26 April 1971, Ostapenko was named Hero of the Soviet Union for his heroism in testing new aviation technology. He was also awarded the Order of Lenin and the FAI’s Henry De La Vaux Medal.

Pyotr Maksimovich Ostapenko flew more than 5,000 hours as a test pilot in more than 60 aircraft types. He held seven FAI speed, altitude and time to altitude world records. He died 8 April 2012 at the age of 83 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8652

² FAI Record File Number 8511

³ FAI Record File Number 8514

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1976

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

28 July 1976: A U.S. Air Force Lockheed SR-71A, serial number 61-7958, flown by Captain Robert C. Helt and Major Larry A. Elliott, USAF, set an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, at 85,068 feet (25,929 meters).

FAI Record File Num #3496 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 25 929 m
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Robert C. Helt (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (USAF)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

On the same day, Captain Eldon W. Joersz and Major George T. Fuller, Jr., flew 958 to 2,193.17 miles per hour (3,529.56 kilometers per hour) over a 15/25 kilometer course at Beale Air Force Base, California, setting an FAI World Absolute Speed Record.

FAI Record File Num #8865 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8879 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-Absolute (Absolute Record of classes C, H and M)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed
Performance: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

De La Vaulx Medal
De La Vaulx Medal

The previous day, the same airplane flown by Major Adolphus H. Bledsoe, Jr., pilot, and Major John T. Fuller, RSO , set the World Absolute Speed Record of 2,092.29 miles per hour (3,367.22 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit. Captain Joersz and Major George Fuller’s record superseded the one set by Bledsoe and John Fuller.

All six airmen were awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the FAI.

Today, 61-7958 is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Warner-Robins, Georgia. 32 of these long range strategic reconnaissance aircraft were built by the Lockheed Skunk Works.

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958 at Beale AFB, 28 July 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 July 1973

Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Manning, Major Paul M. Schaefer and Technical Sergeant Emund K. Schindler, the record-setting crew of Chuck’s Challenge. (FAI)

4 July 1973: One of the last Grumman Albatross flying boats in service with the United States Air Force, HU-16B 51-5282, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record for amphibians (Class C-3) when, at 12:33 p.m. EDT, it reached 10,022 meters (32,881 feet).¹ This exceeded the previous record set 37 years earlier by 2,417 meters (7,930 feet).²

Flown by Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Manning, Major Paul M. Schaeffer and Technical Sergeant Emund K. Schindler, 51-5282 was assigned to the 301st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Homestead AFB, Florida. After the flight, Manning said, “It wasn’t very comfortable. The outside temperature was 25 below zero.” The Air Force Times reported that the cold caused the lens of Sergeant Schindler’s watch to pop out.

Originally built as an SA-16A, 51-5282 was modified to the SA-16B standard, increasing the wingspan to 96 feet, 8 inches (29.464 meters) and altering the leading edges. Larger tail surfaces were added. In 1962 the designation was changed from SA-16B to HU-16B.

The Albatross was operated by a crew of 4 to 6 airmen, and could carry up to 10 passengers. The amphibian was 62 feet, 10 inches (19.152 meters) long and had an overall height of 25 feet, 11 inches (7.899 meters). The airplane’s total wing area was 1,035 square feet (96.15 square meters). The HU-16B had an empty weight of 23,025 pounds (10,444 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 37,500 pounds (17,010 kilograms). For takeoff from water, the airplane’s weight was limited to 34,000 pound (15,422 kilograms), using rocket assist.

The SA-16A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 826C9HD3 and -D5 (R-1820-76A and -76B) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.80:1. 115/145 octane aviation gasoline was required. These engines were rated at 1,275 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 1,425 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m for takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering, reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 0 inches (3.353 meters) through a 0.666:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-76A and -76B were 3 feet, 11.69 inches (1.211 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.95 inches (1.396 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,380 pounds (626 kilograms).

The Albatross could be equipped with two or four Aerojet 14AS1000 RATO units, which produced 1,000 pounds of thrust (4.49 kilonewtons), each, for 15 seconds.

The flying boat had a cruise speed of 134 knots (154 miles per hour/248 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 204 knots (235 miles per hour/379 kilometers per hour) at 3,700 feet (1,128 meters). The service ceiling was 23,800 feet (7,254 meters) and its maximum range was 2,410 nautical miles (2,773 statute miles/4,463 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

Two weeks after the record-setting flight, 51-5282 was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, making the very last USAF HU-16 flight.

FAI record-setting Grumman HU-16B Albatross 51-5282 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 3208

² FAI Record File Number 11649, 11650: 7,605 meters (24,951 feet), 14 April 1936,  by Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky, Chief Pilot, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, flying a Sikorsky S-43, with Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Michael Pravikov.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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