Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude

5 July 1927

The Honorable Mary Bailey D.B.E. (1890–1960) (Monash University)

5 July 1927: Less than one year after learning to fly an airplane, Lady Bailey, with Mrs. Geoffrey de Havilland (the former Miss Louise Thomas) as a passenger, took off from the de Havilland airfield at Stag Lane, Edgeware, London, England, and climbed to an altitude of 5,268 meters (17,283 feet) setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for multi-place light aircraft.¹ (Mrs. de Havilland is listed as “crew” in the FAI record.)

Lady Bailey was flying Captain Geoffrey de Havilland’s personal airplane, a DH.60X Moth, construction number 276, registration G-EBQH.

de havilland DH.60X Hermes Moth G-EBWD, the same type airplane flown by Lady Bailey. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
de havilland DH.60X Hermes Moth G-EBWD, the same type airplane flown by Lady Bailey. (This is the same airplane shown in the photograph below.) (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Lady Bailey was born Mary Westenra, daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. She married Sir Abe Bailey at the age of 20. Soon after becoming a licensed pilot in early 1927 (Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate 8067), she flew across the Irish Sea, the first woman to do so. After her World Record altitude flight, she set several long distance solo flight records, including an 8,000-mile  (12,875 kilometers)flight from Croydon, South London to Cape Town, South Africa with a DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, G-EBSF, and an 10,000-mile (16,093 kilometers) return flight made with another DH.60 (after G-EBSF was damaged). These were the longest solo flight and the longest flight by a woman to that time.

Lady Bailey was twice awarded the Harmon Trophy (1927, 1928). In 1930, she was invested Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. During World War II, The Hon. Dame Mary Bailey, D.B.E., served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with the rank of Section Officer, equivalent to a Royal Air Force sergeant.

Lady Mary died 29 July 1960 at the age of 70.

The de Havilland DH.60 was a light-weight, two-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane. The fuselage was covered with plywood and the wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric. It was 23 feet, 5½ inches (7.150 meters) long with a wingspan of 29 feet, 0 inches (8.839 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded parallel to the fuselage, giving it an approximate width of 9 feet (2.7 meters). The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters) and lower wing was staggered 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) behind the upper. Both wings had 3.5° angle of incidence and 3.5° dihedral. There was no sweep. Empty, the DH.60 had a weight of 764 pounds (346.6 kilograms) and loaded weight of 1,650 pounds (748 kilograms).

G-EBQH was a prototype for the de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 304.66-cubic-inch-displacement (4.993 liter) A.D.C. Cirrus Mark II four-cylinder vertical inline engine. This was a right-hand tractor, direct-drive, overhead-valve engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. It had a normal power rating of 75 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. and a maximum power rating of 80 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. The Cirrus Mk.II was 3 feet, 9.3 inches (1.151 meters) long, 1 foot, 7 inches wide (0.483 meters) and 2 feet, 11.6 inches (0.904 meters) high. It weighed 280 pounds (127 kilograms).

G-EBQH was used as a factory demonstrator and test aircraft. The DH.60X crashed in February 1928 but was rebuilt and later sold. It was flown in the King’s Cup Air Races of 1927, 1928 and 1929 by Alan S. Butler, the chairman of de Havilland. The prototype was modified to a single-place configuration with a Cirrus Mark III engine, and was known as the Moth Special. In the 1929 race, it set the fastest time for a light aircraft.

Records indicate that G-EBQH changed ownership a number of times. Its Certificate of Airworthiness expired in 1937 and its status is not known.

A de Havilland DH.60X Moth G-EBWD at Naval Air Day at Shuttleworth, 2 June 2002. This airplane is similar to the DH.60X that Lady Bailey flew to her FAI altitude record. (This is the same airplane shown in the photograph above).

¹ FAI Record File Number 8221

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 July 1973

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

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

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

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

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

Grumman SA-16B Albatross (designated HU-16B in 1962). (U.S. Air Force)

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

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

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

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

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

¹ FAI Record File Number 3208

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

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 May 1953

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200, parked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200, parked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. (J. R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)

24 May 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base, Jackie Cochran sets a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record of 14,377 meters (47,169 feet) while flying the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk. 3, serial number 19200.¹

Cochran had set several FAI speed records with this Sabre in the previous days.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, May 1953. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, May 1953. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

“As I climbed. . . I noticed that the sky above was growing darker until it became a dark blue. The sun is a bright globe up there above but there are no dust particles at that height to catch the sun’s rays, so there is not what we know as “sunshine” down on the surface. Yellow has given way to blue. The gates of heaven are not brilliantly lighted. The stars can be seen at noon.”

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter XII, at Page 238.

Jackie Cochran and the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 at high altitude over the Southern California desert. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Jackie Cochran and the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 at high altitude over the Southern California desert. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

During May and June 1953, Cochran, a consultant to Canadair, Ltd., flew the Sabre Mk.3 to FAI records over the 15/25 kilometer straight course, the 100-kilometer closed circuit, the 500-kilometer closed circuit. She was the first woman to “break the Sound Barrier” when she flew No. 19200 to Mach 1.04.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.3 was a one-of-a-kind CL-13 Sabre (an F-86E Sabre manufactured by Canadair, Ltd., under license from North American Aviation, Inc.) built to test the prototype Avro Canada Gas Turbine Division Orenda 3 engine. Modifications to the F-86 airframe were required to install the new, larger engine.

The Orenda 3 was an axial-flow turbojet engine with a 10-stage compressor, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (16.69 kilonewtons), a 15% improvement over the General Electric J47-GE-13 installed in the standard F-86E. The Orenda was 121.3 inches (3.081 meters) long, 42 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,650 pounds (1,202 kilograms).

Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer located at Cartierville, Montreal, Canada, owned by the American submarine builder, Electric Boat Company. Canadair also built licensed versions of the Douglas DC-4 (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) and the Lockheed T-33 two-place jet trainer. In 1954, the company became a part of General Dynamics.

After the speed records, No. 19200 was sent to North American Aviation for evaluation. Today, it is on static display outdoors at Wetaskiwin Regional General Airport (CEX3), Alberta, Canada.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB. (LIFE Magazine)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12858

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 May 1929

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek waves from the cockpit of the Wright XF3W-1 Apache. (NASM)

8 May 1929: Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew the prototype Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, to 11,930 meters (39,140 feet) over NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C. ¹ The record was certified by the National Aeronautic Association.

Lieutenant Soucek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement.

Flight reported:

New Altitude Record Claimed

     It is announced in Washington that Lieut. Apollo Soucek, U.S.N., claims to have created a new height record of 40,000 ft. on May 8. In the course of his flight he encountered a temperature of 60 deg. F. below zero. [-51 °C.]

FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1064. (No. 20. Vol. XXI.) May 16, 1929, Page 405 at Column 2

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

Lieutenant Soucek set two other World Records with the XF3W-1 Apache. On 4 June 1929, with the Apache configured as afloat plane, he flew it to an altitude of 11,753 meters (38,560 feet). ² The following year, 4 June 1930, he flew the Apache to 13,157 meters (43,166 feet). ³

Wright XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley. (NASA)

Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A7223, was a prototype for a single-place, single-engine fighter for the U.S. Navy. The XF3W-1 was a single-bay biplane with a fuselage constructed of steel tubing, covered with doped fabric. The wings were constructed of wood. It was 22 feet, 1 inch (6.731 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 4 inches (8.331 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). It had an empty wight of 1,414 pounds (641 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,128 pounds (965 kilograms). Only one XF3W-1 was built.

The XF3W-1 was designed to use the new air-cooled, supercharged 1,176.036-cubic-inch-displacement (19.272 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1200 Simoon 9-cylinder radial engine, which was rated at 350 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The R-1200 weighed 640 pounds (290 kilograms).

Pratt & Whitney Wasp A Serial Number 1, (R-1340), Radial 9 Engine at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

After taking delivery of the prototype, the Navy installed the number two Pratt & Whitney Wasp A engine. (The XF3W-1 was the first airplane to fly with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, 5 May 1926.) The Wasp A was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch displacement (22.021 liters) nine-cylinder radial direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 410 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline. The Wasp A was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) used the XF3W-1 for engine and cowling tests at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL), Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. Which engine was installed at the time of Lieutenant Soucek’s record flight is uncertain.

The XF3W-1’s engine was supercharged by a NACA Model 2E Roots-type supercharger, built by the Allison Engineering Company. This supercharger, serial number 1, is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

The XF3W-1 was also configured as a float plane.

162 m.p.h., 38,560′

Wright Aeronautical XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, 28 August 1926. (NASA)

Apollo Soucek was born 24 February 1897, at Lamont, Oklahoma. He was a son of Bohemian immigrants, Johann Grothard Soucek, a blacksmith, and Ludmila Pishny Soucek. He had a brother, two years his junior, named Zeus.

Midshipman Apollo Soucek, U.S. Naval Academy, 1921. (The Lucky Bag)

Soucek received an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland. He entered on 9 June 1917 as a member of the Class of 1921. While at Annapolis, “Soakem” Soucek played baseball and football. In The Lucky Bag it was written, “When you want a man you can rely on and trust ’till there’s skating in Hell, just page old Soakem—he’s there with the goods.”

Midshipman Soucek graduated and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, with a date of precedence of 3 June 1921.

Ensign Soucek’s first assignment was aboard the New Mexico-class battleship, USS Mississippi (BB-41).

In February 1924, Ensign Soucek was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction. He was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1924. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as assistant flight officer aboard the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1).

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

Soucek was next transferred to Observation Squadron 1 (VO-1), Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard USS Maryland (BB-46), a Colorado-class battleship. He had collateral duty as the ship’s assistant navigator.

In 1925, Lieutenant (j. g.) Souceck served aboard USS Aroostock (CM-3), a minesweeper which had been converted to an aircraft tender, and in 1926, was assigned to the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadephia, Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Soucek was promoted to lieutenant, 3 June 1927, and he began a tour of duty with the Bureau of Aeronautics, 29 June 1927. He specialized in engines in the Bureau’s Material Division.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek married Miss Agnes Eleanor O’Connor at Washington, D.C., 27 May 1930.

In 1931, Lieutenant Soucek served with Fighting Squadron 1B (VF-1B). He returned to duty at the Naval Aircraft Factory in 1933.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, 16 March 1932. The airplane is a Boeing F4B-2, A8801, assigned to VF-1, USS Saratoga (CV- 3) (U.S. Navy via Davis-Monthan Airfield Register)

In 1936, Lieutenant Souceck served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).

USS Ranger (CV-4). (U.S. Navy)

Souceck was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 June 1937, and was assigned as commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 2 (VF-2). In 1938, he returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, working in both the Flight Division and the Personnel Division.

In 1940, Lieutenant Commander Soucek served as navigator aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5).

Souceck was promoted to the rank of commander,  27 August 1941. He was assigned as Air Officer aboard the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8). When the carrier’s executive officer was promoted, Commander Soucek was assigned as Hornet‘s executive officer, serving under Captain Marc A. Mitscher. Hornet participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942; the Battle of Midway; and the Solomons Campaign.

Commander Soucek was promoted to the rank of captain (temporary), 20 August 1942, with date of rank 20 June 1942.

Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 27 October 1942. Captain Soucek was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle.

USS Hornet (CV-8) under attack during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942. (U.S. Navy)

Captain Soucek next was as assistant chief of staff for operations, U.S Pacific Fleet, then the Naval Air Training Command. He was promoted to the rank of rear admiral (temporary), 23 July 1944. After the war, reverted to the permanent rank of captain, with the 23 July 1944 date of rank.

On 27 October 1945, Captain Soucek became the first commanding officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). He was appointed Commander, Carrier Division 14, in January 1946. He remained in command of Roosevelt until relieved, 2 March 1946.

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), (U.S. Navy)

After leaving Roosevelt, Soucek was assigned as Commander Fleet Air Wing 1.

From July 1947 through 1949, Rear Admiral Soucek was Commander, Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. In late 1949, he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Aviation Plans, and then, in 1950, Director, Aviation Plans, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

In 1951 Rear Admiral Soucek was appointed Naval Attaché for Air at the United States Embassy, London, England. His wife, Agnes, died that year.

Soucek returned to combat during the Korean War. In 1952, he commanded Carrier Division 3 and Task Force 77 from his flagship, USS Boxer (CV-21). He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Two Vought F4U-5N Corsairs fly past USS Boxer (CV-21), off Korea, 4 September 1951. (U.S. Navy)

Rear Admiral Soucek became Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics, 18 June 1953.

In 1954, Rear Admiral Soucek became a member of the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution National Air Museum, serving without compensation.

Soucek suffered a heart attack in February 1955. Unable to return to full duty, he was transferred to the Retired List on 1 July 1955.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, died at his home in Washington, D.C., 19 July 1955. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8257

² FAI Record File Number 11747

³ FAI Record File Number 8237

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 May 1958

MAJ Howard C. Johnson prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. ("Bill") Park (center) and Jack Holliman. YF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. (“Bill”) Park (center) and Jack Holliman. F-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed Martin)

7 May 1958: Major Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force, the operations officer of the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, California, zoom-climbed a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2957, to an altitude of 91,243 feet (27,811 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base, establishing a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record. ¹

Major Howard C. Johnson seated in the cockpit of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (Johnson Family Collection)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, after his record-setting flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Using techniques developed by Lockheed aerodynamicists, Major Johnson climbed to 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and accelerated to the Starfighter’s maximum speed in level flight. He then started to climb, maintaining a steady 2.5 G load, until he reached the optimum climb angle. A piece of masking tape applied to the side of the cockpit canopy at the predetermined angle gave Johnson a visual reference during his climb. At approximately 77,000 feet (23,470 meters) the F-104’s J79 turbojet engine had to be shut down to prevent overheating in the thin high-altitude atmosphere. The interceptor continued from that point on a ballistic trajectory until it reached the peak altitude. On the descent, the engine was restarted and Johnson flew the Starfighter back to Edwards Air Force Base.

Major Johnson had broken the altitude record set just 17 days earlier by Lieutenant Commander George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy, flying an experimental Grumman F11F-1F Tiger. The Lockheed F-104 beat the Grumman F11F by 4,362 meters (14,311 feet). ²

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2957.

The Daily Independent Journal reported:

Hamilton Jet Pilot Sets World Altitude Record

     A 37-year-old Novato father of two today holds the world altitude record for flight in a powered aircraft.

     Maj. Howard C. Johnson of the 83rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base yesterday nosed a jet-powered F104 Starfighter to an altitude of 91,249 feet above the Mojave desert.

     His mark eclipsed by 2.1 miles an unofficial record of 80,190 feet claimed last Friday by a French Trident 06 at Istres, France.

     Major Johnson, operations officer of the 83rd FIS, first Starfighter-equipped unit of the Air Force, took off at 9:40 a.m. from the Palmdale (Los Angeles County) facility of the Lockheed Aircraft Corp., manufacturer of the plane.

     He sent the missile-like Starfighter upward on a 55-to-60 degree angle as it swept over the heavily instrumented range at Edwards Air Force Base. Then he pulled up sharply into a high angle climb, and zoomed out into the thin atmosphere over the desert—more than 17 miles above sea level.

     Just 27 minutes later, he touched down again at Palmdale.

     Describing the flight at a Los Angeles news conference today, the curly-haired major said he flew at 35,000 feet to Santa Barbara, went into a climbing turn at 40,000 feet and gave the jet full power about 10 miles from Mojave. Over Mojave, he went into his climb.

     He said he had no trouble controlling the plane. With colder air, he thought, he could have gone higher. The temperature outside the plane at the peak of his climb was minus 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside it was 70 degrees above zero.

     In the past week he had made six practice flights prior to yesterday’s record breaker.

     What does the sky look like at such altitudes?”

     I was so busy on most of my flights I didn’t notice,” he said. “On one flight I did and it was sort of a dark purple.”

     Johnson estimated he was at his maximum altitude 10 to 15 seconds and was going 622 miles per hour at the top of his climb.

     Johnson said he didn’t “feel like I was in outer space.”

     “But this obviously is a transition from the atmosphere is a transition from the atmosphere we have known,” he said. “We are on the threshold of space—a step up the ladder.”

     Back in Novato, his wife, Doris Jean, was at home at 1260 Cambridge street. Their children, Theodore 10, and Carol, 4, were at school.

     Mrs. Johnson knew her husband was out after the record, but she wasn’t worrying, she said today.

     “We’ve been married for 16 years and all of that time he has been in the Air Force,” she said, “so I’ve learned not to worry too much.

     “He had oxygen and a suit to protect him. But I do wish he’d stay a little lower.”

     Mrs. Johnson’s telephone rang soon after 10 o’clock. It was her husband, calling to say he had been successful in setting a new altitude record.”

     That’s about all he said,” reported Mrs. Johnson.

     The record is subject to review by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale before it goes down in the books as official.

      Plane altitude records have been zooming since the adoption of the jet engine. The altitude record for a propeller-drive plane is 56,046 feet, set ‘way back in 1946 by Maj. F. F. Ross, pilot, and Lt. D. M. Davis, flying from Harmon Field on Guam.

     An experimental rocket plane has gone higher than Johnson’s Starfighter, but the feats are not comparable. The rocket craft was launched from a mother plane high in the air, while the Starfighter took off from the ground.

     A balloon piloted by Maj. David G. Simons ascended to approximately 100,000 feet last Aug. 19 and 20, according to the World Almanac.

     Major Johnson is a native of Knoxville, Tenn. He has been in the Air Force since April 1, 1942, and has logged 4,600 hours flying time, including 1,800 hours in jets. He has been stationed in California, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, and then at Hamilton, for five years.

The Daily Independent Journal, Vol 98, No. 40   Page 1, Columns 5–8, and Page 12, Column 3

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon presents the Collier Trophy. Left to right, Major Walter W. Irwin and Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Johnson; Nixon; Neil Burgess and Gerhard Neumann, designers of the General Electric J79 engine; and Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. 15 December 1959. (NASM-00142388)

Howard Carroll Johnson was born at Knoxville, Kentucky, 2 February 1920. He studied at the University of Louisville. Soon after the United States entered World War II, on 1 April 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was accepted s an aviation cadet 7 April 1942.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Donna Jean Holder, a classmate at the University of Louisville, at the Presbyterian Church, McAllen, Texas, 4:30 p.m., February 20, 1943. They would have two children. Mrs. Johnson died in 1986.

Colonel Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force.

After completing flight training, Cadet Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 20 March 1943. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 27 June 1944.

Gunnery inst,

Capt air-res (inactive) 13 Nov 46

Rel’d active duty 12 Jan 47

1LT AC 19 June 47, dor 20 Mar 46

P-51 Korea 87 combat missions

1954-55 F-94B

1961 F-84F Germany

1966-67 F-105 SEA  DO 388th TFW, 117 combat missions

 

Republic F-105D Thunderchiefs, Southeast Asia, 1966.

Ret 1 Oct 1972

Cattle ranch, TX

live-aboard boat Palm Beach

Married Ms. Elena Rova O’Brien, a widow, April 1990. Mrs. Johnson died in 2016.

Colonel Johnson just celebrated his 100th Birthday in Palm Beach, Florida.

The landing gear are retracting as Major Howard C. Johnson takes off with the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2957, 7 May 1958. (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions.

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

The Lockheed F-104 was armed with an electrically-powered General Electric T-171E-3 (later designated M61) Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon, or “Gatling Gun.” The technician has a belt of linked 20 mm cannon shells. (SDASM)

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2957 had been one of the first group of YF-104A pre-production aircraft. After the flight test program, it and the others were modified to the F-104A production standard.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was later converted to a QF-104A high-speed drone. It was expended as a target 8 August 1967.

Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957, after modification to a high-speed drone, in flight. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 in flight after modification to high-speed drone configuration. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 5056

² FAI Record File Number 8596

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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