Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude with a 1000 Kilogram Payload

25 May 1961

Kaman HH-43B-KA Huskie 60-0263 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

25 May 1961: Captain Walter C. McMeen, U.S. Air Force. flew a Kaman HH-43B Huskie, 60-0263, to an altitude of 8,037 meters (26,368 feet) over Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona. This established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with a 1,000 Kilogram Payload.¹

Brigadier General James W. Chapman, Jr., commander, 4510th Combat Crew Training Wing, Luke Air Force Base, congratulates Captain Walter C. McMeen on his record setting flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain McMeen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievement.

This same helicopter set a World Record for Altitude Without Payload  at 10,010 meters (32,841 feet), 18 October 1961.² It was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Francis M. Carney over the Kaman plant at Bloomfield. Connecticut. The following week, on 24 October 1961, Colonel Carney set six more world records, flying the HH-43B to 3,000 meters (9,853 feet) in 2 minutes, 41.5 seconds;³ 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 6 minutes 49.3 seconds;⁴ and to 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 14 minutes, 31 seconds.⁵ Captain Richard H. Coan set a World Record for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing, when he flew 60-0263 1,055.16 kilometers (655.65 miles), at Mono Lake, California, 13 June 1962.⁶ Captain Chester R. Radcliffe, Jr., set an FAI World Record for Distance Without Landing when he flew the Huskie from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to Springfield, Minnesota, a distance of 1,429.80 kilometers (888.44 miles), 5 July 1962.⁷

Kaman HH-43B Huskie 60-263. (FAI)

The Kaman Aircraft Corporation Huskie was used by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, primarily for short range rescue operations. It was operated by two pilots and two rescue crewmen.

A turboshaft engine drove a unique system of counter-rotating and intermeshing rotors to provide lift, thrust and directional control. The counter-rotation cancelled the torque effect so no anti-torque, or tail, rotor was necessary. This allowed all of the engine’s power to drive the main rotor system.

The fuselage of the H-43B was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long. Each rotor had a diameter of 47 feet, 0 inches (14.326 meters). It’s height was 15 feet, 6½ inches (4.737 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight was 4,470 pounds (2,028 kilograms) and its maximum gross weight was 8,800 pounds (3,992 kilograms).*

Kaman H-43B 58-1846 at Edwards Air Force Base. (University of Texas at Dallas 14EAK-1-1PB29)

The H-43B was powered by one Lycoming T53-L-1B turboshaft engine, rated at 860 shaft horsepower at 21,510 r.p.m. The engine uses a 5-stage axial-flow, 1 stage centrifugal-flow, compressor with a single stage gas producer turbine and single-stage power turbine. A reverse-flow combustion section allows significant reduction in the the engine’s total length. The power turbine drives the output shaft through a 3.22:1 gear reduction. The T53-L-1 is 3 feet, 11.8 inches (1.214 meters) long and 1 foot, 11.0 inches (0.584 meters) in diameter. It weighs 460 pounds (209 kilograms).

The Huskie’s economical cruise speed was 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour), and the maximum speed was 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). Its hover ceiling out of ground effect (HOGE) was 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), and in ground effect (HIGE) was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and it had a range of 235 miles (378 kilometers).

Kaman H-43B Huskie 58-1846 at Edwards AFB. Left rear quarter view. Note the early configuration of vertical fins.

With the call sign Pedro, the HH-43 was a rescue helicopter that served in combat during the Vietnam War.

The record-setting Kaman HH-43B Huskie 60-0263 was last assigned to Detachment 3, 42nd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Walter Carlton McMeen was born 22 July 1926 at Lamesa, Dawson County, Texas,  He was the son of Ralph Evan McMeen, an oil company truck driver, and Nannie Dee Price. At the age of 17 years, Walter enlisted in the United States Navy, 29 March 1944. He served as a fireman aboard the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Young (DD-580). Following World War II, Fireman 1st Class McMeen was released from active duty, 16 May 1946.

USS Young (DD-580), Mare Island, 6 October 1944. (U.S. Navy)

McMeen studied at Texas Technological College, Lubbock, Texas, but in 1950, he left school to enlist as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Air Force. He was sent to pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, southeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

Aviation Cadet McMeen married Miss Lena Fay Boykin of Dallas, Texas, at Williams AFB, 28 Oct 1950. The wedding was presided over by an Air Force chaplain. They would have four children.

Walter C. McMeen was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S.A.F., 10 February 1951. He flew 100 combat missions in fighter bombers during the Korean War. He then served as an instructor at Nellis AFB, near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lieutenant McMeen transitioned to the Piasecki H-21. In three years at Nellis, he rescued 49 pilots. He was then assigned to Luke AFB. During the next four years, in addition to 31 Air Force personnel, McMeen rescued 41 civilians and brought them to safety.

Piasecki H-21B Workhorse O-34334 at Elmendorf Air Foce Base, Alaska, circa 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1955, using an ax to chop through the canopy of a burning North American Aviation F-86 Sabre, Lieutenant McMeen saved the life of the fighter’s pilot. For this action he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

On 12 April 1960, Captain McMeen accepted the first Kaman H-43B at the factory in Bloomfield, Connecticut. He flew the new helicopter to Langley, Virginia, where it was loaded aboard a Lockheed C-130 Hercules and transported to Luke AFB, Arizona.

In 1968, Major McMeen commanded Detachment 16, Western Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Center at Williams AFB.

Major McMeen retired from the Air Force 1 July 1970.

McMeen was fatally injured 28 December 1984, at San Diego, California. He was a passenger aboard a Bell 47G-3B-1 helicopter, N474MP, attempting to land aboard M/V Olga del Pacifico, a 70.01-meter, 1,111 gross ton Mexican-registered tuna seiner which was tied up alongside the 10th Avenue Terminal in San Diego Bay. The pilot, James McDonald, did not see a crane boom which was positioned over the ship’s helideck. McDonald was critically injured, but McMeen died at Physicians and Surgeons Hospital at 4:15 p.m.**

Major Walter Carlton McMeen was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13154

² FAI Record File Number 1870

³ FAI Record File Numbers 13057 and 13135

⁴ FAI Record File Numbers 13056 and 13136

⁵ FAI Record File Number 13137

⁶ FAI Record File Number 1258

⁷ FAI Record File Number 13208

* Maximum overload gross weight is 9,150 pounds (4,150 kilograms) at a load factor of 2.0

** The helicopter, manufacturer’s serial number 6531, was repaired and returned to service. It was later registered N811MS and N9296U. The FAA registration was cancelled in 2013.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

13 December 1960

Lieutenant Henry L. (“Larry”) Monroe, USN, (left) and Commander Leroy Anthony Heath, USN, with a North American Aviation A3J-1 Vigilante, a carrier-based supersonic attack bomber. The two aviators are wearing B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suits for protection at very high altitudes. (U.S. Navy)

13 December 1960: Commander Leroy Anthony Heath and Lieutenant Henry L. (“Larry”) Monroe, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude¹ with an early production North American A3J-1 Vigilante supersonic attack bomber. A 1,000-kilogram payload was carried in the bomber’s tubular weapons bay.

Over Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, the Vigilante accelerated to approximately 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour), then pulled up into a steep climb. The Vigilante zoom-climbed in a nearly ballistic trajectory and reached an altitude of 27,874 meters (91,450 feet).¹ As the aircraft went “over the top,” it had slowed to about 400 miles per hour (644 kilometers per hour). They were momentarily “weightless,” which Commander Heath described as a “pleasant sensation.”

Their new record broke the previous record by 7,418 meters (24,337 feet).²

According to an article by Greg Goebel on the web site Air Vectors,

“. . . At that altitude, the aircraft was no longer aerodynamic and tumbled onto its back as it fell down the far side of the arc, with the engines flaming out in the thin atmosphere. However, such problems had been encountered in practice flights leading up to the attempt, and the flight crew knew what to expect. Heath simply neutralized the controls; once the Vigilante reached thicker air halfway through its fall, it naturally adopted a nose-down attitude, and Heath was able to relight the engines.”

— http://www.airvectors.net/ava5.html

North American Aviation A3J Vigilante. (SDASM Archives Catalog #: 00001959)

For their achievement, the Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, awarded Commander Heath the Distinguished Flying Cross, and Lieutenant Monroe, the Air Medal. Also present at the 16 December 1960 presentation were Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral James Russell, Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

Lieutenant Larry Monroe and Commander Leroy Heath in the cockpits of a North American Aviation A3J-1 Vigilante supersonic attack bomber. (Detail & Scale)

Navy Jet Breaks Russ World Altitude Mark

Vigilante Attack Bomber Carries More Thank 2,000 Lb. Payload to 91,450.8 Ft.

     A Navy Vigilante attack bomber has carried a payload of more than 2,000 lb. to an altitude of 91,045.8 ft. to break Russia’s international record of 67,096 ft., it was disclosed Thursday.

The flight was made last Tuesday from Edwards Air Force Base by a North American twin-jet A3J aircraft piloted by Comdr. Leroy A. Heath of the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent, Md.

     It was observed officially by representatives of the National Aeronautic Assn. headed by Bertrand Rhine, chief West Coast timer.

     A U.S. claim for a world record altitude for a land-based jet aircraft carrying a 1,000 kilogram (2,204.62 lbs.) payload has been filed with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, world record agency in Paris.

Awarded Medal

     Comdr. Heath was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the record achievement. His navigator, Lt. Larry Monroe, was awarded the Air Medal. The presentations were made in Washington Thursday by Navy Secretary Franke.

     Following a carefully controlled flight pattern, the Vigilante’s high climb was tracked by altitude registering radars monitored by NAA representatives on the ground. The record altitude also was calibrated by a sealed barograph carried in the plane to measure and record air pressures from which height can be determined.

     The flight marked the first time the United States has competed for this particular class record which requires that the aircraft carry its payload in a compartment measuring at least 141 cubic ft.

     The Vigilante is a double sonic, all-weather attack plane built by North American Aviation’s Colombus (O.) division. Designed for carrier operation, it can deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons by a unique tail ejection system from very high altitude or on deck-level attack missions.

     Powered by two General Electric J79 engines developing approximately 15,000 lbs. of thrust each, the Vigilante is 70 ft. long and has a wing span of 50 ft.

     The previous Russian record was set July 13, 1959, by Vladimir Smirnov, flying a twin-jet RVmonoplane over Bykova Aerodrome near Moscow.

Los Angeles Times, 16 December 1960, Page 2, Column 6, and Page 32, Column 2.

The prototype North American Aviation YA3J-1 Vigilante. (Boeing)

The North American Aviation A3J-1 Vigilante is a carrier-based, twin-engine, supersonic bomber designed for high-altitude nuclear attacks. It is crewed by a pilot and navigator. The airplane has a high-mounted swept wing and tricycle landing gear. There are no ailerons, elevators or rudder. Control is provided by spoilers, a large moveable vertical fin and independent horizontal stabilizers.

The A3J-1 is 76.547 feet (23.332 meters) long with a wing span of 53.02 feet (16.16 meters), and overall height of 19.366 feet (5.90 meters). The wings are swept 37.5° at 25% chord. The wing area is 700 square feet (65 square meters). The bomber has an empty weight of 32,714 pounds (14,839 kilograms) and Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 56,293 pounds (25,534 kilograms).

Three-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Navy)

The A3J-1 Vigilante is powered by two General Electric J79-GE-8  turbojet engines with afterburner. The J79 is a single-spool axial-flow turbojet with a 17 stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. It is 17 feet, 4.inches (5.625 meters) long, with a diameter of 2 feet, 7.6 inches (0.803 meters). The J79-GE-8 produced a maximum 17,000 pounds of thrust (23.049 kilonewtons) at 7,685 r.p.m.

A North American Aviation A3J-1 Vigilante,  circa 1958. (U.S. Navy 1039888)

The A3J-1 had a maximum speed of 1,147 knots (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). Its combat ceiling was 52,100 feet (15,880 meters).

The Vigilante had a tubular bomb bay between the engines. Weapons were ejected rearward. It could carry a Mk 28, Mk 27 or Mk 43 thermonuclear bomb in the weapons bay, or conventional or nuclear bombs mounted on underwing hardpoints. The A3J carried no defensive weapons.

In 1962, the A3J was designated as A-5. North American Aviation built a total of 167 Vigilantes, in both attack and reconnaissance (RA-5C) variants.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) launches a North American Aviation A3J Vigilante from a forward catapult. (U.S. Navy)

Leroy Anthony Heath was born in Detroit, Michigan, 20 November 1922. He was the first of seven children of Leroy Vincent Heath, a firefighter, and Catherine Crumley Heath. He graduated from high school in 1941 then went to work for the Cadillac Motor Car Division, General Motors Corporation.

Heath enlisted in the United States Navy 7 August 1942. He had brown hair and eyes, a light complexion, was 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and weighing 190 pounds (86 kilograms), he was selected as an aviation cadet through the V-5 Program, 3 January 1943. After completion of flight training, on 1 July 1944 Aviation Cadet Heath was designated a Naval Aviator and commissioned as an ensign, United States Naval Reserve (U.S.N.R.). Sent to the Pacific Theater, Ensign Heath flew Chance Vought F4U Corsairs from USS Lexington (CV-16). Following the end of World War II, Heath was transferred to the Regular Navy (U.S.N.). He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, 1 January 1946.

On 9 November 1946, Lieutenant (j.g.) Heath married his long-time girlfriend, Miss Mary Helen Garver in Detroit. They would have seven children.

Heath graduated with Class 9 of the U.S. Navy’s test pilot school at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. He served two tours as a project officer in the Service Test Division at the Naval Air Test Center.

He was promoted to lieutenant, 5 July 1951, and to lieutenant commander, 1 November 1955.

CDR Leroy A. Heath, USN, commanding officer, Heavy Attack Squadron SEVEN (VAH-7), USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), 1963. (U.S. Navy)

In 1962, Commander Heath as commanding officer of VAH-7, a heavy attack squadron, flying the new A3J-1 Vigilante from USS Enterprise (CVAN-65). He later served as operations officer of USS Independence (CVA-62).

On 1 January 1965, Heath was promoted to the rank of captain. From September 1968 to December 1969, he was in command of the attack transport, USS Cambria (APA-36). (Naval aviators were often assigned as commanding officers of “deep draft” ships prior to serving as captain of an aircraft carrier.)

USS Cambria (APA-36), at Valetta, Malta, 1968. Capatin Heath commanded the attack transport 25 Sept 1968–December 1969. (U.S. Navy)

After a tour as Executive Director, Material Acquisitions Group, Naval Air Systems Command, Captain Heath retired from the U.S. Navy in March 1972.

After earning a bachelor’s and masters degree in education from the University of Central Florida, Heath served as an assistant professor of mathematics at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, 1976 through 1985.

Mary Helen Heath died 28 Oct 1985. Professor Heath then married his second wife, Ms. Tamara Sue Sundbo, 20 June 1987 at Volusia, Florida.

Captain Heath died 21 February 2003.

¹ FAI Record File Number 4568

² FAI Record File Number 14658: Vladimir Smirnov, 13 July 1959. Air craft RV w/ 37V engine

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes