Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude

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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18 September 1919

Roland Rolffs after setting an FAI altitude record of 9214 meters at Garden City, 20 July 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Roland Rohlfs after setting an FAI altitude record of 9,241 meters (30,318 feet) at Garden City, New York, 20 July 1919. The airplane is the Curtiss 18T-2 Wasp, Bu. No. A3325. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

18 September 1919: Curtiss Engineering Corporation test pilot Roland Rohlfs set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew a Curtiss 18T-2 Wasp triplane, U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A3325, to an altitude of 9,577 meters (31,421 feet) over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York.¹ Contemporary sources, however, reported that Rohlfs’ peak altitude was 34,610 feet (10,549 meters).

This record broke Rohlfs’ previous FAI World Record for Altitude of 9,241 meters (30,318 feet) set at Garden City, New York, 30 July 1918.²

aeronautics officials check altitude-recording barographs with Roland Rohlfs after a record-setting flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Aero Club of America officials check altitude-recording barographs with Roland Rohlfs after a record-setting flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Rohlfs took off at 12:06 p.m. and reached his peak altitude 1 hour, 15 minutes later. The air temperature was -43 °F. (-41.7  °C.). He touched down after 1 hour, 53 minutes.

The Curtiss 18T Wasp was a two-place single-engine triplane fighter designed and built for the United States Navy at the end of World War I. A3325 had been loaned to the U.S. Army to set an airspeed record of 163 miles per hour (262 kilometers per hour), before being returned to Curtiss for additional testing. It was fitted with a set of longer wings and redesignated 18T-2. The second 18T, A3326, retained the standard 32’–½” (9.766 meters) wings and was redesignated 18T-1.

The Curtiss 18T-2 was 23 feet (7.010 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 7½ inches (12.383 meters). It weighed 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms). The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.11-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss-Kirkham K-12 60° single-overhead-cam V-12 engine which produced 375 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 400 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The K-12 drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 0.6:1 gear reduction.

Roland Rohlfs takes off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York at 12:06 p.m., 18 September 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Roland Rohlfs and the Curtiss 18T-2 take off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, at 12:06 p.m., 18 September 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

A3325 later crashed during a test flight. Its sistership, A3326, suffered a crankshaft failure and was destroyed. The Curtiss 18T was never placed in series production.

¹ FAI Record File Number 15676

² FAI Record File Number 15674

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1918

Captain Rudolph William Schroeder with the Bristol fighter which he flew to a world record altitude, 18 September 1918. Note the gap between to bottom of the fuselage and the lower wing. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1918: Captain Rudolph William Schroeder, United States Army Air Service, the Chief Test Pilot of the Engineering Division at McCook Field, Fairfield, Ohio, flew a Bristol F.2B fighter to set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records.¹ ²

Aerial Age Weekly reported:

CAPTAIN SCHROEDER ESTABLISHES WORLD ALTITUDE RECORD

THE Contest Committee of the Aero Club of America has homologated the world’s altitude record made by Captain R. W. Schroeder, in a Bristol fighter equipped with a 300 H. P. Hispano-Suiza motor, of 28,900 feet above sea level, during a flight on September 18, 1918, at Wilbur Wright Field, Fairfield, Ohio, near Dayton.

      Nothing was more fitting. While the Allies’ aviators overseas are beating the Germans on the various fronts, an American aviator, Captain R. W. Schroeder, U.S. Air Service, beats the German aeroplane altitude record.

Captain Schroeder left the ground at 1:45 P. M., September 18, 1918. and reached his highest point if 105 minutes, which would have been at about 3:30 P. M. It took him about twenty minutes to descend, landing about 200 miles from where he started, at about 3:50 P. M.

     Captain Schroeder i sin charge of all Performance Tests at the Wilbur Wright Station and his duties require him to go to 21,000 and 22,000 feet quite often, and he generally goes without oxygen. In this record climb, he got well up to 25,000 feet without oxygen. He used no anti-freezing mixture and his maximum water temperature was 85 degrees centigrade at the start minimum and of 60 degrees centigrade at the highest altitude. The temperature of the air was 32 degrees centigrade below zero.

The reports, including the two barograph charts, duly calibrated and corrected: the performance curves, and the temperature record were certified to by Lieut. George B. Patterson, O. I. C. Performance Test Reports and the instruments were calibrated by the Bureau of Standards, and adjusted locally at the McCook Field Laboratory and personally installed on the aeroplane by Lieut. Patterson.

     The previous American altitude record was made by Caleb Bragg at Mineola, L. I., September 20, 1917, in a Wright Martin, Model V machine, when he reached an altitude of 20,250 feet, and the last world’s record of the International Aeronautic Federation made by G. Legagneux in France on the 28th of December, 1913, was 6,120 meters (20,258 feet). In July, 1914, a German aviator was reported as having flown to 26,200 feet, but the record was never submitted for homologation.

     This world’s record, made by Captain Ruddy W. Schroeder, is the first world’s aeroplane altitude record held by an American since the world’s altitude record made by Lincoln Beachey, at Chicago, Ill., during the International Meet, August 20, 1911, when he reached the height of 11,642 feet (3,548 meters).

     Under the rules of the International Aeronautic Federation, the international aeronautic body which controls all aeronautic sports and gives the necessary official records, a pilot must hold the International Aviator’s certificate to have his record recognized. This certificate is issued in the United State by the Aero Club of America, which is the federation’s sole representative in this country. Captain Schroeder held the the F. A. I. certificate at the time he made the record, therefore his record will be accepted by all the countries affiliated with the International Aeronautic Federation and the Pan-American Aeronautic Federation, which represents twenty Latin American republics.

Under the rules of the Federation to establish an altitude record it is necessary to best the old record by at lease 100 meters. Captain Schroeder, therefore, beat the record by a good margin and has gone higher the the highest mountain, with the exception of the highest peak in the Himalaya, which rises 29,002 feet.

     Captain Schroder is a veteran of the aeronautic movement. He is an old time member of the Aero Club of Illinois and well known for his ability as an aviator and aeronautic engineer.

AERIAL AGE WEEKLY, Vol. VIII, No. 5, 14 October 1918

Bristol F.2B C823. (BAE Systems)

The Bristol F.2B was a two-place single-engine two-bay biplane fighter, designed by Captain Frank Sowter Barnwell, O.B.E., A.F.C., and built by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co., Ltd., Filton and Brislington, Bristol, England, and several other manufacturers. More than 3,800 were produced and some considered it to be the best two-place fighter of the First World War.

The F.2B was 25 feet, 9 inches (7.849 meters) long. Both upper and lower wings had a span of 39 feet, 3 inches (11.979 meters) and a chord of 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters). The total wing area was 405 square feet (37.63 square meters). Both wings had an angle of incidence of 1½°, and 3½° dihedral. There was no sweep. The lower wing was staggered 1 foot, 5 inches (0.432 meters) behind the upper wing. In order to give the gunner a better range of fire, the lower wing was not attached to the bottom of the fuselage. This had the effect of lowering the upper wing while maintaining a vertical gap of 5 foot, 5 inches (1.651 meters).

The gross weight of the F.2B was approximately 2,810 pounds (1,275 kilograms).

Bristol F.2A

The Bristol Fighters were powered by Rolls-Royce Falcon engines. The F.2B was equipped with the Falcon III. The Falcon was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 867.080-cubic-inch-displacement (14.209 liters) single-overhead camshaft 60° V-12 engine. The Falcon III had a compression ratio of 5.3:1 and had a Sea Level rating of 288 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. The propeller gear reduction ratio was 0.589:1.

The F.2B had a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour (201 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 113 miles per hour (182 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The fighter could climb to 10,000 feet in 11.5 minutes, and to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 21.5 minutes.

The United States was interested in producing its on version of the F.2B, to be powered by the American Liberty V-12 engine instead of the Rolls-Royce Falcon III V-12. The Royal Air Force sent two F.2Bs to McCook Field to be used as “pattern aircraft.” These were assigned project numbers P30 and P37.³

The Engineering Division at McCook Field found that the Liberty was too heavy to be practical when installed in the Bristol F.2, and other engine types were considered. One of the pattern aircraft was modified to accept a 300 horsepower Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine.

P37 was the project number assigned to the second of the two Bristol F.2B fighters evaluated at Wright Field in 1918.

When equipped with the Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine, the modified F.2B had an empty weight of 1,733 pounds (786 kilograms), and maximum of 2,630 pounds (1,193 kilograms). It had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers) per hour at Sea Level; 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet, 100½ miles per hour (162 kilometers per hour) at 13,000 feet, and 97½ miles per hour (157 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet. With the Hispano, the F.2B could climb to 1,000 feet in 1 minute, 10 seconds, 10,000 feet in 15 monutes, 5 seconds, 15,000 feet in 28 minutes and 50 seconds.

Three-view illustration for the Bristol F.2B. (Flight)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463: 9,455 meters (31,020 feet)

² FAI Record File Number 15671: 9,455 meters (31,020 feet)

³ A source states that P30 carried the RAF identification number C949, and that P37, C4729.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 September 1923

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe seated in the cockpit of the Nieuport-Delage NiD.40R. (FAI)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe seated in the cockpit of the Nieuport-Delage Ni-D.40R. (FAI)

5 September 1923: At Villacoublay, France, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew a Nieuport-Delage Ni-D.40R biplane to an altitude of 10,741 meters (35,239.5 feet).¹

The airplane was powered by water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.77-cubic-inch displacement) La Société Hispano-Suiza 8b single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine rated at 300 horsepower.

Sadi-Lecointe's record-setting Nieuport-Delage NiD.40R. (FAI)
Sadi-Lecointe’s record-setting Nieuport-Delage Ni-D.40R. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8246

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1953

Captain Russell M. Dobyns, United States Air Force, with his YH-21 Workhorse. (FAI)
Captain Russell M. Dobyns, United States Air Force, with his YH-21 Work-Horse. (FAI)

2 September 1953: At the Dayton Air Show, Captain Russell Martin Dobyns, United States Air Force, flew a Piasecki YH-21-PH Work-Horse tandem rotor helicopter to an altitude of 6,739 meters (22,110 feet), setting an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude Without Payload for reciprocating-engine helicopters.¹ This record still stands.

Two days later, Captain Dobyns flew his H-21 over a 3-kilometer course. Making four passes, two in each direction, he averaged 236.19 kilometers per hour (146.76 miles per hour). This established a second FAI world record.²

Piasecki YH-21-PH Workhorse, 50-1235, FAI World Altitude Record holder. (FAI)
Piasecki YH-21-PH Workhorse, 50-1235, FAI World Altitude Record holder. (FAI)

The Piasecki YH-21 Work-Horse made its first flight at Morton Grove, Pennsylvania, just over four months earlier, on 11 April 1952. It was a single-engine, tandem rotor transport helicopter. The Piasecki Helicopter Corporation built 18 pre-production YH-21-PH helicopters, followed by three production variants, the H-21A, H-21B and H-21C. Major Dobyns’ record-setting YH-21 was the fourth pre-production aircraft.

In 1962, the helicopter was redesignated CH-21. In U.S. Army service, the H-21 was named Shawnee, in accordance with the Army’s tradition of naming its aircraft after Native American tribes.

The H-21A could be flown by a single pilot, although it was normally operated by two pilots, with a flight mechanic (crew chief), and could carry a maximum of 16 persons, including crew members.

With rotors turning, the ship’s overall length was 86 feet, 5 inches (26.340 meters) (86 feet, 4 inches for the H-21B). The helicopter was 52 feet, 2 inches (15.900 meters) long with its blades folded, and it was 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) high.

Each three-bladed rotor had a diameter of 44 feet, 0 inches (13.411 meters). The angle in the fuselage was intended to provide adequate vertical clearance between the intermeshing fore and aft rotor assemblies. (Later tandem rotor helicopters use raised pylons.) The rotor blades were constructed of wood around a steel spar and covered with 3-ply mahogany plywood. The airfoil is symmetrical. Each blade is 19 feet, 6.50 inches (5.956 meters) long and 1 foot, 6.00 inches (0.457 meters) wide. There is 5° 37′ of negative twist from the blade root to tip. The individual rotor blades weigh 178 pounds (80.74 kilograms).

The forward rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rear rotor turns the opposite direction. Normal operating speed for the main rotors was 235 to 260 r.p.m. (233–350 r.p.m. in autorotation, with a transient droop to 210 r.p.m.). At 250 r.p.m., the blades’ tip speed is 594 feet per second (181 meters per second). The counter-rotating rotors cancelled out engine torque, eliminating any need for a tail rotor.

The H-21A had an empty weight was 7,966 pounds (3,613 kilograms), with a gross weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum overload weight of 13,500 pounds (6,123 kilograms). It could carry a maximum external load of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (LIFE Magazine)
ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (Larry Burrows/LIFE Magazine)

The H-21 was powered by a single air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.13-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 863C9WD1 (R-1820-103) nine-cylinder radial, mounted inside the fuselage at midship, and drove the front and rear rotors in opposite directions through drive shafts and gear boxes.

The Wright R-1820-103 engine was rated at 1,275 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 1,425 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., for takeoff. (Installed in the H-21A, the engine was restricted to a 30-minute limit above 2,500 r.p.m.) This direct-drive engine had a compression ratio of 6.80:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. The engine was 4 feet, 0.50 inches (1.232 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.95 inches (1.396 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms). Wright built 971 R-1820-103s from November 1950 through 1957.

The H-21A had a maximum speed of 100 knots (115 miles per hour/185 kilometers per hour) and could hover sideways at up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour/74 kilometers per hour). The helicopter could land and take off from sloped surfaces up to 20°.

Under standard atmospheric conditions, at a gross weight of 11,500 pounds, the H-21A could hover in ground effect (HIGE) at approximately 9,500 feet (2,896 meters), and out of ground effect (HOGE) at about 6,750 feet (2,057 meters).

The H-21A had an internal fuel capacity of 300 U.S. gallons (1,136 liters), giving a maximum range under cruise conditions of 481 nautical miles (554 statute miles/891 kilometers) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its service ceiling was 19,200 feet (5,852 meters).

The U.S. Air Force immediately ordered 32 H-21A helicopters for Search and Rescue operations. The Workhorse was well suited to cold weather operations and it was widely used in Alaska, Canada, and the Antarctic. Another 163 H-21B models were ordered as a troop transport. The U.S. Army ordered a similar H-21C variant.

In 1955, Piasecki became Vertol and eventually Boeing Vertol. The company would continue to produce tandem rotor helicopters such as the H-46 Sea Knight and the CH-47 Chinook, which is still in production.

Russell M. Dobyns, 1942. (Volunteer)

Russell Martin Dobyns was born in Norton, Virginia, 2 July 1921. He was the son of Bridie Witten Dobyns, a grocery salesman, and Zollie Russell Martin Dobyns. He attended Norton High School in Norton, Virginia, graduating in 1940. He then entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, as a member of the Class of 1944. Dobyns was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha (ΠΚΑ).

Russell Dobyns enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, on 16 June 1942. He had brown hair, blue eyes, was 5 feet, 6 inches (1.68 meters) tall, and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms). Trained as a pilot, he was discharged 29 August 1943, and then commissioned as a second lieutenant, 30 August 1943.

During World War II, Lieutenant Dobyns flew 32 combat missions over Europe as a pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber.

Returning to the United States, Dobyns married his wife, Ada, in 1945. They would have a son, Russell Martin Dobyns, Jr., born 25 November 1946.

Following the war, Dobyns remained in the military until being released from active duty 30 March 1950. Less than three months later, he was recalled to active duty because of teh Korean War. Major Dobyns retired from the Air Force 5 February 1964.

Entering civilian life, Dobyns was employed as an aeronautical engineer by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Marietta, Georgia.

Major Dobyns’ son, Russell, a Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, was killed in action in the Quang Tri Province of Vietnam, 10 May 1969.

Russell Martin Dobyns, Sr., died in Fulton County, Georgia, 17 August 2007. His remains were interred at the Arlington Memorial Park, Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Piasecki H-21B Workhorse -03433 at Elmendorf Air Foce Base, Alaska, circa 1960. (U.S. Air Force)
Piasecki H-21B Workhorse 53-4334 at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, circa 1963. This helicopter was later registered N6796 by the FAA. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2185

² FAI Record File Number 13102

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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