Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude

19–20 February 1979

Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the Iniversity of Cincinatti College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Informaton Office)
Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Information Office)

19–20 February 1979: Professor Neil Alden Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, a member of the Board of Directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, former United States Navy fighter pilot, NACA/NASA research test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and The First Man To Set Foot On The Moon, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and National Aeronautics Association class records for time to climb to an altitude and altitude while flying the prototype Learjet 28, serial number 28-001.

Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28, March 1979.
Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28.

Armstrong, with Learjet program test pilot Peter Reynolds as co-pilot, and with NAA observer Don Berliner aboard, flew the Learjet 28 to 15,000 meters (49,212.598 feet) in 12 minutes, 27 seconds over Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on 19 February.¹

On the same day, during a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Armstrong flew the Learjet to 15,584.6 meters (51,130.577 feet), setting records for altitude, and for sustained altitude in horizontal flight.²  ³

The following day, 20 February 1979, flying from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to Florence, Kentucky, Armstrong again set altitude and sustained altitude in horizontal flight, in a different class, by taking the Learjet to 15,585 meters (51,131.89 feet).⁴ ⁵

Learjet 28, serial number 28-001
Learjet 28, serial number 28-001. (NASA)

The Learjet 28 was a development of the Learjet 25 twin-engine business jet. It is operated by two pilots and can carry 8 passengers. The Model 28 used a new wing design. It was the first civil aircraft to be certified with winglets. The prototype first flew 24 August 1977, and it received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration 29 July 1979.

The Learjet 28 is 47 feet, 7.5 inches (14.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 9½ inches (13.348 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area is 264.5 square feet (24.6 square meters) It has an empty weight of 7,895 pounds (3,581 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,000 pounds (6,804 kilograms).

Gates Learjet 28 three-view illustration. (FLIGHT International, No. 3647, Vol. 115, 10 February 1979, Page 402)

The Learjet 28 is powered by two General Electric CJ610-8A turbojet engines. This is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet, developed from the military J85. It has an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The CJ610-8A is rated at 2,850 pounds of thrust (12.68 kilonewtons) at 16,500 r.p.m., and 2,950 pounds (13.12 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, for takeoff (five minute limit).

The business jet has a cruise speed of 464 knots (534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour) at 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters). The Learjet 28 has a maximum range of 1,370 nautical miles (1,577 statute miles/2,537 kilometers). The airplane’s maximum operating altitude is 51,000 feet (15,545 meters), the same as the record altitude. It can reach that altitude in less than 35 minutes.

The aircraft was limited by its older technology turbojet engines, and only five Learjet 28s were built.

gates Learjet 28 N128LR. (Business Aviation Online)

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, has been re-registered several times. At the time of its FAI record-setting flights, it carried FAA registration N9RS. Later it was registered as N3AS. The most recent information shows it currently registered as N128LR.

Neil Alden Armstrong, one of America’s most loved heroes, passed away 25 August 2012.

A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.
A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2652

² FAI Record File Number 8670

³ FAI Record File Number 8657

⁴ FAI Record File Number 2653

⁵ FAI Record File Number 2654

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1947

Major E.M. Cassell, USAF. (FAI)
Major Ernest M. Cassell, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army. (FAI)

10 February 1947: At Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio, Major Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, flew a Sikorsky YR-5A helicopter, serial number 43-46628, to an altitude of 5,842 meters (19,167 feet), setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record for helicopters.¹

Major Cassell took off from Patterson Field at 11:05 a.m., and landed at 12:02 p.m. He said that he knew the helicopter had reached its absolute ceiling. “She just wouldn’t go any higher. At the peak I dived to pick up speed, pulled up and the ship just quivered in a tip-stall as if to say, ‘That’s all I can do.’ ”

At that altitude, Cassell encountered winds of 40–50 miles per hour (18–22 meters per second), and an air temperature of -19 °C. (-2.2 °F.). He wore an electrically-heated flight suit.

Cassell was one of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the U.S. military services, with more than 700 hours flown to date.

Observers for the National Aeronautic Association, Dr. Daniel P. Johnson of the National Bureau of Standards, and C.S. Logsdon, director of the contest division of the N.A.A., flew aboard a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. The B-25 flew along with the helicopter. Both carried barographs. A second B-25 acted as the camera ship.

The Sikorsky YR-5A (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

YR-5A 43-46608 was one of one of twenty-six service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7½ inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1½ inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,715 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,223 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Sikorsky S-48 (R-5) three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)
Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)

Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., was born at Indianapolis, Indiana, 26 February 1912. He was the first of two sons of Ernest Murray Cassell, a traveling salesman, and Irene Eidola Adams Cassell.

Ernest Cassell served in the United States Navy as a seaman, first class, from 14 February 1931 to 3 December 1934. He enlisted as a private in the Indiana National Guard (Air Corps) on 11 March 1935. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 11 March 1937.

Lieutenant Cassell graduated from the National Guard Officers’ Communication Course of the Air Corps Technical School in 1938. He was rated as an aerial observer.

Lieutenant Cassell married Miss Virginia Royall Fleming, in Marion County, Indiana, 31 March 1938. They would have two children, Judith Ann Cassell and Nicholas Murray Cassell.

On 17 January 1941, Cassell was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). He was promoted to first lieutenant, 25 March 1941, and to captain, 12 December 1942. On 26 June 1944, Captain Cassell was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S.

On 10 February 1947 (the date of his altitude record flight) Cassell as appointed to the permanent rank of 1st lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank retroactive to 26 February 1940. Less than three weeks later, 26 February 1947 (his 35th birthday), Cassel was promoted to captain.

Following the establishment of the United States Air Force as a separate military service, Captain Cassell was transferred from the Air Corps, U.S. Army, to the U.S. Air Force. His date of rank was 26 February 1947.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., retired from the United States Air Force on 3 February 1959. He died at Walter Reed Medical Center, Washington, D.C., 2 December 1959. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2256

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 December 1959

Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

14 December 1959: Air Force test pilot Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in a Turbojet Aircraft, breaking a record set only 8 days before by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, flying the number two prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260.¹

Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter 56-885. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter 56-885. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying a slightly modified Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter, 56-885, (the aft fuselage had been replaced by one from a two-place F-104B, which had larger tail surfaces), Jordan released the brakes at Edwards Air Force Base, and 15 minutes, 4.92 seconds later he reached 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) establishing an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for time-to-altitude.² The Starfighter continued the zoom climb profile, peaking at 103,389 feet (31,513 meters) ³ and going over the top at 455 knots (843 kilometers per hour). While accelerating for the zoom maneuver, Jordan’s F-104 reached Mach 2.36.

The Harmon International Trophy (NASM)

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules required that a new record must exceed the previous record by 3%. The Starfighter beat the Phantom II’s peak altitude by 4.95%. Captain Jordan was credited for his very precise flying and energy efficiency. For this flight, Captain Jordan was awarded the Harmon International Trophy.

Joe Bailey Jordan was born at Huntsville, Texas, 12 June 1929, the son of James Broughtan Jordan, a track foreman, and Mattie Lee Simms Jordan. He entered the Air Force in 1949, trained as a pilot and received his pilot’s wings 15 September 1950. He flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star during the Korean War, and served as a flight instructor after his return to the United States. He was a graduate of both the Air Force Test Pilot School and the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. He became a project test pilot on the F-104 in 1956.

Jordan married Dolores Ann Craig of Spokane, Washington, 8 February 1958, at Santa Monica, California. They had two children, Carrie and Ken.

Colonel Jordan was the first Western pilot to fly the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor and his evaluations allowed U.S. pilots to exploit the MiG’s weaknesses during the Vietnam War.

General Dynamics F-111A 65-5701. Photographed by Hervé Cariou at the Salon du Bourget (Paris Air Show), May 1967.

While testing General Dynamics F-111A 65-5701, Jordan and his co-pilot were forced to eject in the fighter’s escape capsule when the aircraft caught fire during a gunnery exercise at Edwards AFB, 2 January 1968. His back was injured in the ejection.

After Jordan retired from the Air Force in 1972, he became an engineering test pilot for the Northrop Corporation’s YF-17 flight test program.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bailey Jordan died at Oceanside, California, 22 April 1990, at the age of 60 years. His ashes were spread at Edwards Air Force Base. Jordan Street on the air base is named in his honor.

Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Lockheed F-104C Starfighter was a tactical strike variant of the F-104A interceptor. The F-104C shared the external dimensions of the F-104A, but weighed slightly less.

The F-104C was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-7 engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-7 is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.482 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.282 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,575 pounds (1,622 kilograms).

The F-104C could carry a 2,000 pound weapon on a centerline hardpoint. It could carry up to four AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles.

On 9 May 1961, near Moron AFB, Spain, Starfighter 56-885 had a flight control failure with stick moving full aft. The pilot was unable to move it forward, resulting in an initial zoom climb followed by unrecoverable tumble. The pilot safely ejected but the airplane crashed and was destroyed.

Captain Joe B. Jordan, USAF, is congratulated by Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier. Captain Bailey is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a ILC Dover MC-2 helmet. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain Joe B. Jordan, USAF, is congratulated by Lockheed Chief Engineering Test Pilot Tony LeVier. Captain Bailey is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an ILC Dover MC-2 helmet. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

A short Air Force film of Joe Jordan’s record flight can be seen at:

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352

² FAI Record File Number 9065

³ FAI Record File Number 10354

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1928

“Louise Thaden in 1929, in front of the left wing of Beechcraft Travel Air 3000. She is wearing goggles around her neck, she is holding a leather flying helmet, and her left foot is resting on the wheel.” Louise Thaden with a Travel Air 3000 at Oakland Airport, circa 1929 (NASM-SI-83-2145)

7 December 1928: Flying a Travel Air 3000 biplane over Oakland, California, Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden established an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet).¹ Mrs. Thaden surpassed the record of 5,008 meters (16,430 feet) set by Lady Heath, just five days earlier, 2 December 1928.²

The Oakland Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association wanted to have all new U.S. records set at Oakland, and Mrs. Thaden’s altitude flight was a part of that campaign. Officials from the Oakland NAA group observed her flight in order to certify the record for the international body, the FAI.

Before altitude flight, Charles S. Nagel, NAA observer, w/ barograph (SDASM # WOF_00340

The Oakland Tribune reported:

AVIATRIX SETS WORLD RECORD

Oakland Pilot Breaks Mark for Women With Altitude of 25,400 Feet.

     Confident that she has established a new world’s altitude record for women fliers, Mrs. Louise McPhetridge Thaden, Oakland aviatrix, clyaims [sic] to have attained a height of 25,400 feet in her plane during a flight of one hour and fifty-five minutes over Oakland airport.

Mrs. Thaden took off from the local flying field at 2:30 p.m. yesterday in a Travelair [sic] biplane equipped with a 180-horsepower Hispano-Suiza motor. She carried two altimeters and a sealed barograph. One altimeter showed a height of 25,400 feet, while the other registered 23,100 feet. Either mark would be sufficient to break the record of 22,000 feet held by Lady Heath of London.

In the plane were a tank of oxygen and a mask which Mrs. Thaden found necessary to use at a height of 15,000 feet. She was dressed in a fur-lined flying suit, fur-lined boots, and wore a fur-lined helmet and gloves.

“It was awfully cold up there,” said Mrs. Thaden after landing at the airport. “The flight wasn’t difficult, and I believe I can establish a higher altitude mark than this one.”

The flight was conducted under supervision of the Oakland chapter, National Aeronautical [sic] Association, with Leo S. Nagle, local president, assisting. The sealed barograph will be sent to Washington, D.C., for official calibrating to make Mrs. Thaden’s flight official.

__________

     WICHITA, Kansas, Dec. 8.—(AP)—Mrs. Louise McPhetridge von Thaden, Oakland, Calif., aviatrix, who believes she has established a new altitude record for women fliers, learned to fly while she was in Wichita working as a saleswoman for a local company. She came here from Bentonville, Ark., where she formerly taught school.

Walter Beech, president of the airplane manufacturing company which built the plane Mrs. Thaden used in her altitude flight, said he picked as a person having natural ability for flying after she had only 10 hours of instruction in the air

Oakland Tribune, Vol. CIX, No. 161, Saturday, 8 December 1928, Page 1, Column 6

Thaden/oxygen system (University of Arkansas Library, Women in Arkansas Collection ualr-ph-0067_na_na_pho0049)

Because of the altitudes at which she intended to fly, Mrs. Thaden carried a cylinder of pressurized oxygen and face mask. In her autobiography, she wrote:

Louise Thaden after her record flight (CTIE Monash University)

. . . Every foot of altitude was a battle. “Come on baby,” I breathed, “Just a hundred feet more! You can do it—just a hundred feet more. Come on, baby—hunnert—feet—.”

     There was a ringing in my ears, a far away, dim, yet sharply ringing like the sound you hear coming out from under ether. The plane was nose down, turning in wide, fast circles, engine bellowing protestingly under wide-open throttle.

     Automatically easing the throttle back and giving back pressure on the stick, I glanced at the altimeter: 16,200 feet. I fumbled clumsily and my numb fingers succeeded in prying the frozen mass of ice and mask from my face. Fresh air tasted good as I breathed in long, hard, deep, gulps. The plane weaved crazily.

     I thought, “I must have passed out.”

High, Wide, and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2004. Chapter 2, Page 24

Douglas Warren congratulates Louise Thaden, still seated in the cockpit of the Travel Air 3000. (SDASM # WOF_00350)

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative for his Travel Air Manufacturing Company at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. Beech asked her to go to Oakland as an employee of Douglas C. Warren, the new Travel Air dealer for the western region of the United States. He included flying lessons with her employment. (Warren owned the airplanes used by Mrs. Thaden to set her altitude and endurance records.) She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Once in California, Miss McPhetridge met an aeronautical engineer, Herbert von Thaden,³ and they were married on 21 July 1928.

“Louise in the Hisso-powered Travel Air N5425 used for the Altitude Record.” (High, Wide and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden, the University of Arkansas Press, 2004, at Page 22. NASM SI-89-21985)

The airplane flown by Mrs. Thaden for her altitude record was a Travel Air 3000, registration NC5425, serial number 514. The Travel Air 3000 was a single-engine, three-place, single-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 24 feet, 3 inches (7.391 meters) long, with an upper wing span of 34 feet, 8 inches (10.566 meters), and lower span of 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters). The airplane had an overall height of 9 feet, 0 inches (2.743 meters). The 3000 had an empty weight of 1,664 pounds (755 kilograms), and gross weight of 2,590 pounds (1,175 kilograms).

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, front view

Travel Air biplanes could be ordered with several different air-cooled or water-cooled engines, such as the Curtiss OX-5, the 120 h.p. Fairchild Caminez 4-cylinder radial, or the Wright Whirlwind. The 3000 was equipped with a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated Hispano-Suiza 8Ac V-8 (according to FAI records). For the record flight the engine was replaced with a “souped-up” engine.

The Travel Air 3000 had a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), and the maximum range was 400 miles (644 kilometers).

The Travel Air Manufacturing Company built approximately 50 of the “Hisso-powered” Travel Air 3000 variant.

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, left side view
Uncased barograph from Louise Thaden’s altitude record flight.(SDA&SM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12212

³ Herbert von Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and the T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1959

Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, with the World Record-setting McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. (U.S. Navy)
Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, with the World Record-setting McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Commander Flint is wearing a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitude. (U.S. Navy) 

6 December 1959: Project Top Flight. At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Commander Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260.

At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Commander Flint accelerated in level flight with  afterburner to Mach 2.5, then pulled up into a 45° climb and continued to 90,000 feet (27,432 meters). He had to shut down the Phantom’s two General Electric J79 jet engines to prevent them from overheating in the thin atmosphere. He continued on a ballistic trajectory to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet). This was just short of the arbitrary 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) that delineated the beginning of space at the time. Diving back through 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), Flint restarted the engines and flew back to Edwards.

This was the first of three FAI World Records set by 142260.¹

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, taxiing at Edwards Air Force Base, 6 December 1959. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, taxiing at Edwards Air Force Base, 6 December 1959. (U.S. Navy)

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald (“Zeke”) Huelsbeck had been conducting test flights to determine the best profile for the record attempt.

“Huelsbeck was flying the very first F4H prototype when an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed, killing Huelsbeck.”

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems, by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 101. (The accident occurred 21 October 1959.)

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. This airplane, the first prototype, was lost 21 October 1959. (U.S. Navy)

Commander Flint flew twelve zoom climbs between October and December, five times climbing past 95,000 feet (28,956 meters), but not exceeding the previous record, 28,852 meters, set by Vladimir Sergeyevich Ilyushin ² with a Sukhoi T 431 (a modified Su-9 interceptor), 14 July 1959, by the FAI-required 3% margin. During the first week of December, with National Aeronautic Association personnel at Edwards to monitor and certify the record for the FAI, he flew three flights each day.

Commander Flint was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

Distinguished Flying Cross

General Orders: All Hands (August 1960)

Action Date: December 6, 1959

Service: Navy

Rank: Commander

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight on 6 December 1959. As pilot of a Navy all-weather fighter aircraft, Commander Flint succeeded in establishing a new world jet aircraft altitude record of 98,560 feet. Exercising brilliant airmanship, initiative and planning ability, he clearly demonstrated the inherent capabilities and the maximum performance of an extremely important Naval aircraft, and was instrumental in focusing world attention on the continuing and significant development of the science of aviation in the United States.”

McDonnell YF4H-1, Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, Project Top Flight, 6 December 1959
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, Project Top Flight. This airplane, the first prototype, was lost 21 October 1965. (U.S. Navy)

Commander Flint’s world altitude record would fall 8 days later when Captain Joe B. Jordan, United States Air Force, flew a Lockheed F-104C Starfighter to 31,513 meters (103,389.11 feet ).³

Lawrence W. Flint, Jr., as a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, 1938. (The Echo)
Lawrence W. Flint, Jr., as a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, 1938. (The Senior Echo)

Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., was born at Sophia, West Virginia, 24 June 1920. He was the first of three children of Lawrence Earl Flint, a salesman, and Rosetta M. Richmond Flint. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School at Beckley, West Virginia, graduating in 1938. He then attended Beckley College (now, Mountain State University), and Emory & Henry College at Emory, Virginia.

Flint entered the United States Navy as an aviation cadet under the V-5 Program, 30 July 1940. He was trained as a pilot at NAS Pensacola and NAS Jacksonville. He was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Naval Reserve, 10 October 1941, and designated a Naval Aviator, 5 December 1941, two days before the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Islands.

Ensign Flint was assigned to Scouting Squadron Two (VS-2), flying the Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber. He was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade (j.g.), 1 October 1942. In 1943 he transitioned to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighter with Fighting Squadron Eighteen (VF-18) aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-18). Flint was promoted to Lieutenant (Temporary), 1 October 1943. This rank was made permanent on 30 October 1944.

A Gruman F6F-5 Hellcat prepares to take of from an aircraft carrier during World War II. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat prepares to take of from an aircraft carrier during World War II. (U.S. Navy)

In 1944, Lieutenant Flint was assigned to Flight Test and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flying the earliest American jet aircraft. Flint was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy, 3 October 1945.

Lieutenant Commander Flint then attended the U.S. Navy General Line School at Newport, Rhode Island. In 1947, Flint went to Attack Squadron Fourteen (VA-14, “Tophatters) as the squadron’s executive officer. VA-14 flew the Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair.

In 1949, Lieutenant Commander Flint married Miss Betty Alice Noble of Salt Lake City, Utah. Mrs. Flint had served in the United States Navy during World War II.

After a staff assignment in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, in 1951, Lieutenant Commander Flint was sent to the Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, England.

Flint returned to combat operations during the Korean War, as executive officer, and then commanding officer, of Fighter Squadron Eleven (VF-11, “Red Rippers”), flying the McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee from USS Kearsarge (CVA-33 ).

A McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee, Bu. No. 125663, of VF-11 ("Red Rippers"), over Wanson Harbor, Korea, 20 October 1952. (U.S. Navy80-G-480436)
A McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee, Bu. No. 125663, of VF-11 (“Red Rippers”), over Wonson, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 20 October 1952. (U.S. Navy)

Following the Korean War, Flint was assigned as Assistant Experimental Officer at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, and then went back to sea as Air Operations Officer on board USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39 ). He was promoted to Commander, 1 January 1954.

Captain Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., United States Navy

From 1957 to 1959, Commander Flint was once again in flight test operations at NATC Patuxent River.  In 1959, he was assigned as Chief of Staff to the commanding officer of Readiness Air Wing Twelve (RCVW-12) at NAS Miramar, San Diego, California. It was while in this assignment that he set the World Altitude Record with the YF4H-1. On 1 July 1962, Flint was promoted to the rank of Captain and took command of RCVW-12.

Captain Flint took command of USS Merrick (AKA-97), an Andromeda-class attack cargo transport, 16 July 1966. (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.) Merrick was operating in the western Pacific and Vietnam. Captain Flint remained in command until 13 May 1967.

Captain Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., retired from the United States Navy in March 1968. He and Mrs. Flint resided in La Jolla, a seaside community within the city of San Diego, California, until his death, 16 November 1993. She passed away 20 December 1996.

USS Merrick (AKA-97). (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352: 30,040 meters (98,557 feet), 6 December 1959; FAI Record File Number 9060: 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour), 22 November 1961; and FAI Record File Number 8535: 20,252 meters (66,444 feet), 5 December 1961.

² FAI Record File Number 10351

³ FAI Record File Number 10354

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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