17 November 1926: At Hampton Roads, Virginia, Major Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica, broke his own record, set just four days earlier, when he flew the Aeronautica Macchi M.39, number MM.76, to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course with an average speed of 416.62 kilometers per hour (258.88 miles per hour).¹
The Macchi M.39 racing float plane was designed by Mario Castoldi. It was a single-place, single engine monoplane with two pontoons, or floats. The wing is externally braced, has 0° dihedral, and incorporates surface radiators. The M.39 was 6.473 meters (22 feet, 2.8 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.26 meters (30 feet, 4.6 inches) and height of 3.06 meters (10 feet, 0.5 inches). The empty weight of the Schneider Trophy racer was 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) and its maximum gross weight was 1,615 kilograms (3,560 pounds).
The M.39 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.329 cubic inch) Fiat AS.2 60° DOHC V-12 direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It used three carburetors and two magnetos, and produced 882 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch metal propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The AS.2 engine was designed by Tranquillo Zerbi, based on the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company’s D-12 engine. The engine was 1.864 meters (6 feet, 1.4 inches) long, 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.4 inches) wide and 0.948 meters (3 feet, 1.3 inches) high. It weighed 412 kilograms (908 pounds).
The Macchi M.39 could reach 420 kilometers per hour (261 miles per hour).
Macchi M.39 MM.76 is in the collection of the Aeronautica Militare museum.
11 November 1937: At Augsburg, Germany, Dr.-Ing. Hermann Wurster set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew a prototype Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG Bf 109, D-IPKY, to an average speed of 610.95 kilometers per hour (379.63 miles per hour) in four passes over a 3-kilometer course.¹ This broke the speed record set two years earlier by Howard Hughes with his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, by 43.83 kilometers per hour (27.23 miles per hour).²
Versuchsflugzeug 13, the BFW Bf 109 V13, Werk-Nr. 1050 (FAI records describe it as a Messerchmitt BF113, and contemporary news reports referred to it as the Messerschmitt BF 113R), was one of four prototypes built from production Junkers Jumo 210-powered Bf 109B airframes to test the Daimler-Benz AG DB 600 engine. It was given a civil registration, D-IPKY. Along with two Bf 109B fighters, V13 was part of an aerial demonstration team which was sent to the International Flying Meeting at Dübendorf, Switzerland, during the last week of July 1937. It was equipped with a Daimler-Benz DB 600 rated at 960 horsepower.
On its return from Switzerland, V13 was prepared for a speed record attempt. It was given a standard drag reduction for racing airplanes, with all its seams filled and sanded smooth, and a coat of paint. A modified version of the DB 601 engine was installed, reportedly capable of producing 1,660 horsepower for five minutes, with its maximum r.p.m increased from 2,500 to 2,800. It used special Bosch spark plugs. A three-bladed variable-pitch propeller was driven through gear reduction, although the gear ratio is unknown.
Like the Jumo 210, the Daimler-Benz 601 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam, inverted 60° V-12, though with a much larger displacement. The DB 601 had a displacement of 33.929 liters (2,070.475 cubic inches). An improvement of the DB 600, the 601 series used direct fuel injection rather than a carburetor, and a hydraulically-driven two-speed supercharger.
A production Daimler-Benz DB 601 A had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and was rated at 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 5.2 inches of pounds per square inch (0.36 Bar) of boost, for take-off (1 minute limit). It could produce 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. with 2.4 pounds per square inch (0.17 Bar) of boost at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). Its propeller gear reduction ratio was 14:9. The DB 601 A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide, and 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
The Bf 109D production variant was developed from V13.
In 1938, BFW became Messerschmitt AG. The Bf 109 (also commonly called the Me 109) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the 109 during World War II. After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant, the Hispano Aviación HA-1112, remained in production until 1958.
Herman Wurster was born at Stuttgart, Germany, 25 September 1907. In 1926, he began studying aircraft at Königlich Bayerische Technische Hochschule München (TH Munich) and at TH Stuttgart (the Stuttgart Technology Institute of Applied Sciences). He earned a doctorate in engineering (Dr.-Ing.) in 1933. He then became the chief designer for the German Research Institute for Aviation (Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt) in Berlin.
In 1935 and 1936, Dr.-Ing. Wurster was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe‘s testing site at Rechlin, Mecklenburg, Germany. From 1936 until 1943, he was the chief test pilot for Bayerische Flugzeugwerk and Messerschmitt at Augsburg. From 1943 until the end of the war, Wurster was responsible for the development of Messerschmitt’s rocket-powered surface-to-air guided missile, the Enzian E.1 and its variants.
After the war, Dr.-Ing. Wurster founded a building materials company at Nördlingen, Bavaria. He died in Augsburg 17 October 1985 at the age of 78 years.
7 November 1945: Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, Commandant of the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAF Cranfield, set the first world speed record with a jet-propelled airplane, and the first speed record by an airplane in excess of 600 miles per hour (965.606 kilometers per hour), when he flew the Gloster Meteor F Mk.IV, EE454, to 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour)—0.80 Mach—at an altitude of 75 meters (246) above Sea Level. The course was an 8 mile (12.9 kilometers) straight away from the Herne Bay Pier to Reculver Point, along the south coast of the Thames Estuary. This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for speed over a 3 kilometer course.¹
Months of preparation by both the Royal Air Force, which formed a special “flight,” and Gloster Aviation Co., Ltd., went into the speed record effort. Two Meteor F Mk.III fighters, EE454 and EE455, were modified to the new Mk.IV version to attempt the speed record.
The standard B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series I turbojet engines were replaced with Derwent Series V turbojets and lengthened jet nacelles. The wings were shortened, the tips reshaped and the canopy was cut down and strengthened. All trim tabs on flight control surfaces were disabled and their edges sealed. Landing gear and gear door up-latches were strengthened to prevent them from being sucked open at high speed. The airplanes were lightened and all armament deleted. The surfaces were smoothed and painted in a gloss finish. EE454 retained the standard camouflage pattern, while EE455 was painted in a distinctive yellow-gold color.
Many hours of flight testing were performed to ensure that the airplanes would be stable enough at high speeds while flying at the very low altitude required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s rules. The slightest deviation from smooth flight could have disastrous results.
EE454 was flown by Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars (three awards), and EE455 by Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley Greenwood. Each airplane was required to make four passes over the 3kilometer (1.8641 statute miles) course, with two runs in each direction. The airplanes were required to remain at or below 75 meters (246 feet) during the runs over the course, and during the turns at the end of each run, below 400 meters (1,312 feet).
On the day of the speed runs, the weather was marginal. It was cold and overcast, and visibility varied from 7 to 12 miles 11–19 kilometers) along the course. The wind was 8–12 miles per hour (3.6–5.4 meters per second) from the northwest.
Wilson made four passes over the course. His speeds for each run were 604, 608, 602 and 611 miles per hour (972, 978, 969, and 983 kilometers per hour). Greenwood made his speed runs an hour later. His runs were 599, 608, 598 and 607 miles per hour (964, 978, 962 and 977 kilometers per hour).
Wilson’s average speed was the higher of the two. His official FAI homologated record speed is 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour).
Post-flight inspections revealed that the sheet metal of the Meteors’ engine intakes had significantly distorted by the intense pressure differentials experienced during the speed runs.
The B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series V, interestingly, was not a direct development of the preceding Derwent Series I–IV engines. Instead, it was a scaled-down version of the RB.41 Nene, which was in turn, a scaled-up and improved Derwent I. The Derwent V had a single-stage, two-sided, centrifugal-flow compressor and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The compressor impeller and turbine rotor were mounted on a single shaft which was supported on each end by roller bearings, and in the center by a ball bearing. The Derwent V used nine combustion chambers, and burned aviation kerosene. Engine lubricating oil was added to the fuel at a 1:100 ratio, by volume. The Series V had a Normal Power rating of 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.345 kilonewtons) at 14,000 r.p.m., and a Take-off or Military Power rating of 3,500 pounds of thrust (15.569 kilonewtons) at 14,600 r.p.m. (There was no time limit for this power setting.) The engine produced a maximum 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.793 kilonewtons) at 15,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. During the speed runs, thrust was restricted to 3,600 pounds (16.014 kilonewtons) on both Meteors. The Derwent V engine was 7 feet, 4.5 inches (2.248 meters) long, 3 feet, 7 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,280 pounds (581 kilograms).
(Rolls-Royce named its piston aircraft engines after predatory birds, e.g., Kestrel, Merlin, but its turbine engines were named after rivers.)
British Pathé news film of the speed runs can be seen at:
Group Captain Wilson was born at Westminster, London, England, 28 May 1908, the only son of Alfred Wilson and Jessie Wood Young Wilson. He was educated at the University School, Hastings, and the Merchant Taylors’ School, London.
Wilson received a short service commission as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force, 13 September 1929 and was assigned to the No. 5 Flight Training School, at RAF Sealand, Flintshire, Wales. Pilot Officer Wilson was then assigned to 111 Squadron at Hornchurch, Essex, 1930–1932. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 13 March 1931. From 1932 to to 1934, “Willie” Wilson was assigned to the School of Naval Co-operation and Air Navigation at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire.
On the completion of his five-year short service, Wilson was transferred to the Reserve Air Force Officers list. He qualified in flying boats and acted as a flight instructor for the RAF Reserve School. Wilson was promoted to Flight Lieutenant 1 April 1937, with seniority retroactive to 1 April 1936.
While a reserve officer, Wilson was a test pilot for Blackburn Aircraft Ltd., and made the first flight of the Blackburn Roc. He then became a civil test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
In 1939 Flight Lieutenant Wilson was recalled to active duty. He was assigned as Commanding Officer, Aerodynamic Flight, RAE Farnborough, and also flew with No. 74 Fighter Squadron at Biggin Hill. On 1 September 1940, Wilson was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. In 1941, Wilson was appointed chief test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and was responsible for testing all captured enemy aircraft. He was promoted to Wing Commander, 20 August 1945.
Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, was named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.
On 22 February 1947, Wing Commander Wilson married the former Thom Isobel Moira Sergeant (Mrs. Moira Garnham). They had one son. On 4 December 1959, he married Miss Patricia Frances Stanley Warren. They had two children.
Wing Commander Hugh J. Wilson retired from the Royal Air Force at his request 20 June 1948, with the rank of Group Captain. He died at Westminster, London 5 September 1990 at the age of 82 years.
Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley “Terry” Greenwood (29 November 1908–February 1979) was the first pilot to exceed 600 miles per hour, while test flying the Meteors. He was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.
4 November 1927: At Venezia, Mario de Bernardi flew a Macchi M.52 seaplane to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 479.29 kilometers per hour (297.82 miles per hour).¹
Aeronautica Macchi built three M.52 seaplanes for the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Air Force) for use in the 1927 Schneider Trophy Races. The M.52 was designed by Mario Castoldi. Like the earlier M.39, it was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal.
The three racers were each powered by a 2,116.14-cubic-inch-displacement (34.677 liter) liquid-cooled Fiat Aviazone AS.3 dual overhead camshaft, four-valve 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The design of the AS.3 was based on the Curtiss D-12, although it used individual cylinders and water jackets instead of the American engine’s monoblock castings.
4 November 1923: At Mitchel Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, Lieutenant Alford J. Williams, Jr., United States Navy, flew a specially-constructed Curtiss R2C-1 Racer to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 429.03 kilometers per hour (266.59 miles per hour).¹
Two R2C-1 Racers was built for the U.S. Navy by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company of Hammondsport, New York, and were assigned serial numbers A6691 and A6692. They were single-place, single-engine biplanes with a wooden monocoque fuselage and fabric-covered wings. Curtiss had made every effort to reduce aerodynamic drag, including the use of surface radiators on the wings to cool the engine. The airplane was 19 feet, 3 inches (5.867 meters) long with a wingspan of 22 feet (6.706 meters). The biplane had an empty weight of 1,692 pounds (767 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,112.3 pounds (958.1 kilograms).
The R2C-1 Racers were powered by a revolutionary 1,209.610-cubic-inch-displacement (19.813 liter) water-cooled, normally-aspirated Curtiss D-12A dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder. The cylinders and water jackets were cast as a monoblock and a drop-forged crankshaft with seven main bearings was used. A Stromberg NA-75 carburetor supplied the air/fuel mixture. The engine turned a two-bladed forged aluminum propeller designed by Sylvanus A. Reed. This fixed-pitch propeller had very thin blades which allowed it to turn at high speed without adverse sonic effects. The D-12A drove this propeller without gear reduction (direct drive, hence the “D” in the engine’s designation). The D-12A was specifically modified as a racing engine and did not have a power rating for normal service, however, it nominally produced 507 horsepower, with a 520 horsepower maximum. It was capable of operating at 2,500 r.p.m. The Curtiss D-12 was 56¾ inches (1.441 meters) long, 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide and 34¾ inches (0.882 meters) high. It weighed 678.25 pounds (307.65 kilograms).
Lieutenant Alford J. Williams, Jr., born at Bronx, New York, 26 July 1891, the first of four children of Alford Joseph Williams, a stone cutter, and Emma Elizabeth Madden William. He entered Fordham University in 1909, graduating with an A.B. degree. In 1913 Williams entered the university’s School of Law. He played professional baseball for two seasons with the New York Giants. Williams was 5 feet, 10 inches (178 centimeters) tall, weighed 145 pounds (66 kilograms), and had light brown hair and blue eyes.
Williams enlisted as a private in the New York National Guard, 4 March 1913. He was assigned to Company E, 7th Infantry. When the United States entered World War I, Williams, by then working as a machinist, joined the United States Naval Reserve Force (U.S.N.R.F.) as a seaman, 2nd class, and was trained in aviation at the Naval Aviation Detachment, Massachussetts Institute of Technology; the Naval Air Station, Bayshore New York; and at Pensacola Florida. During training he was promoted to Chief Quartermaster, Aviation. Williams was commissioned an Ensign, December 9, 1918.
Ensign Williams served as a gunnery and primary flight instructor at Pensacola, Florida before being assigned as a test pilot at the Naval Air Station at Hampton Roads, Virginia. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 1 April 1919, and to lieutenant, 1 July 1920. He remained at NAS Hampton Roads until being detached to fly high speed airplanes for the Pulitzer Trophy races. As of 9 October 1922, Williams had a total of 1,042 flight hours.
Appointed the Navy’s chief test pilot, he was considered to be a protégé of Rear Admiral William A. Moffet. This placed him in the center of a rivalry between Moffett and Captain Ernest J. King (later, Fleet Admiral). While Moffett was in Europe, Captain King had Lieutenant Williams transferred to sea duty. Williams was angry and in an ill-considered action, resigned his commission.
In 1925 Williams married Miss Florence Wright Hawes of Georgia.
During the 1930s, Williams requested and received a commission as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was soon promoted to the rank of major. However, Major Williams publicly advocated a separate Air Force, and for this he was forced to resign from the military.
Williams wrote Aviation from an Airman’s Standpoint, which was published in 1934.
Williams later served as Aviation Sales Manager for the Gulf Refining Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He commuted with a Grumman G-58A Gulfhawk (a civil version of the F8F Bearcat fighter).
Al Williams retired from Gulf in 1951, and passed away 15 June 1958. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.