Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude

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

Major Rudolph William Schroeder, U.S. Army Air Corps.

18 September 1918: Major Rudolph William Schroeder, Chief Test Pilot of the Engineering Division, McCook Field, Ohio, flew a Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 biplane to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records when he reached 9,455 meters (31,020.34 feet).¹ ² This was 839 meters (2,752.62 feet) higher than he had flown in the same airplane on 6 September while carrying a passenger.

The biplane was powered by a turbo-supercharged 1,649.3-cubic-inch-displacement (27.03 liter) liquid-cooled Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine which produced 449 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Aeronautical engineer Dr. Sanford Alexander Moss developed the use of a turbocharger on aircraft engines.

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, USAAC, flying a Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 was a World War I biplane designed by French aeronautical engineer Captain Georges Lepère and built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was to have been a two-place fighter, light bomber and observation aircraft armed with four machine guns.

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. 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).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 P53, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft.

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. 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).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Packard Lepère L USA C.II, P54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II in flight.

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

A note on the designation of the Packard Lepère fighter.

In modern times, the Packard Lepère is almost universally referred to as the “Packard Lepère LUSAC 11.” Various terms, such as “Lapère United States Army Combat,” are used to explain the meaning of this designation. TDiA believes that this designation is incorrect, for the following reasons:

TDiA has not seen any contemporary source that identifies the airplane as “Packard Lepère LUSAC 11.” It is only referred to as the Packard Lepère, or Lepère.

The markings on the airplane’s rudder in the photographs above and below are clearly an “L” above “U.S.A.” over “C.II”

Allied Aircraft of the World War I era frequently used letters painted near the top of the rudder to indicate the airplane’s manufacturer, for example, “Bre” for Breguet, “MS” for Moraine Saulnier, “N” for Nieuport. “S” represented SPAD. It is probable, then, that the “L” stands for Lepère.

The marking “C.II” is not “-C 11”. France called its fighters chasseurs. Their type was marked on the the airplane’s rudder with the letter “C.” At this time, the Army Air Service used both SPAD S.XIII C.I and S.XVI C.II fighters, and the Nieuport 28 C.I fighters. It would be expected for the Air Service to use the same type designations for consistency. A single-place aircraft was marked with the Roman numeral I, and a two-place airplane was marked with the Roman numeral II. The Packard Lepère was a two-place chasseur, indicated by “C.II.”

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463

² FAI Record File Number 15671

© 2017, 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 Workhorse. (FAI)

2 September 1953: At the Dayton Air Show, Captain Russell M. Dobyns, U.S. Air Force, flew a Piasecki YH-21-PH Workhorse 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-21 was normally operated by two pilots, with a flight mechanic (crew chief), and could carry up to 20 soldiers under ideal conditions. With rotors turning, the ship’s overall length was 86 feet, 4 inches (26.314 meters). The fuselage was 52 feet, 7 inches (16.027 meters) long, and it was 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 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 H-21C had an empty weight was 8,950 pounds (4,060 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,200 pounds (6,895 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 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 approximately 250 r.p.m. The counter-rotating rotors cancelled out engine torque, eliminating any need for a tail rotor.

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. 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 CH-21C had a maximum speed of 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour) and a range of 265 miles (427 kilometers). 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 Dobyns retired from the Air Force in 1964 with the rank of Major.

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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29 August 1955

Wing Commander Walter Frame Gibb, DSO, DFC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett)
Wing Commander Walter Frame Gibb, DSO, DFC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

29 August 1955: Wing Commander Walter Frame Gibb, DSO, DFC, the Chief Test Pilot for the Bristol Aeroplane Co., set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for altitude when he flew an English Electric Canberra B Mk.II, WD952, to 20,083 meters (65,889 feet), near Filton, Gloucestershire.¹

The Telegraph reported:

. . . taking off from Filton, he climbed over the Bristol Channel towards Ireland and levelled off at 50,000 ft in order to burn off fuel to lighten the aircraft before continuing his ascent.

He turned east and finally reached a new record latitude of 65,876 ff (nearly 12.5 miles high) over Bristol. Gibb, who was flying solo, observed: “The last 500 ft took an awfully long time. It was the most difficult flying I have ever experienced.”

WD952 was equipped with the new Bristol Olympus Mk.102 axial-flow turbojet engines, which produced 12,000 pounds of thrust (53.38 kilonewtons), each.

Wing Commander Gibb’s record-setting Olympus-powered English Electric Canberra B Mk.II, WD952. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett)

This was the second FAI altitude record set by Gibb with WD952. Two years earlier, 4 May 1953, Gibb had flown the Canberra to an altitude of 19,406 meters (63,668 feet).²

On 9 April 1956, WD952 was taking off from Filton when the left engine suffered a turbine blade failure at 50 feet (15 meters). In the resulting forced landing, the Canberra’s left wing struck an oak tree and was torn off. The record-setting airplane was damaged beyond repair and was scrapped.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10350

² FAI Record File Number 10323

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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