26 April 1939: Test pilot Fritz Wendel flew a prototype Messerschmitt Me 209 V1, registered D-INJR, over a three-kilometer course at Augsburg, Germany, setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record with an average speed of 755.14 kilometers per hour (469.22 miles per hour). ¹ Wendel’s record broke one set just three weeks earlier by Hans Dieterle in a prototype Heinkel He 100 fighter. ² The new record would stand for the next 30 years.
The Me 209 V1 (also known as the Me 109 R) was specially built as a speed record airplane. It used a very short fuselage with the cockpit well aft of the wing. A small ventral fin gave the airplane’s tail surfaces a cruciform configuration. To reduce aerodynamic drag, a conventional radiator was not used. Instead, surface coolers of the type used in Schneider Cup racers were placed on the wings.
The Me 209 was powered by a Daimler-Benz DB 601ARJ, a highly-modified version of the DB 601A. The production engine was a liquid-cooled, direct-injected and supercharged 33.929 liter (2,075.497-cubic-inches), inverted single-“underhead”-camshaft 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The supercharger was driven hydraulically. The engine was rated at 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), and 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff (limited by a clockwork mechanism to 1 minute), using 87-octane gasoline. The propeller reduction gear ratio was 14:9. The DB 601A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high and 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
Various sources give the power output of the DB 601ARJ as 1,800 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., and 2,300 horsepower with methyl alcohol injection, for very short periods.
The fuselage of the Me 209 V1 is in the collection of the Muzeum Lotwnictwa Polskiego w Krakowie (Polish Aviation Museum at Krakow, Poland).
13 April 1931: Ruth Rowland Nichols set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 338.99 kilometers per hour (210.64 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Carlton, Minnesota.¹
Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr. He had named the airplane The New Cincinnati.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, the Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could be configured to carry four to six passengers.
The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood.
The Model 5 Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).
Nichols’ airplane was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. The engine drove a two-bladed controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard propeller through direct drive. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.3-7 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
“Ruth Nichols was the only woman to hold simultaneously the women’s world speed, altitude, and distance records for heavy landplanes. She soloed in a flying boat and received her pilot’s license after graduating from Wellesley College in 1924, becoming the first woman in New York to do so. Defying her parents wishes to follow the proper life of a young woman, in January 1928 she flew nonstop from New York City to Miami with Harry Rogers in a Fairchild FC-2. The publicity stunt brought Nichols fame as “The Flying Debutante” and provided headlines for Rogers’ airline too. Sherman Fairchild took note and hired Nichols as a northeast sales manager for Fairchild Aircraft and Engine Corporation. She helped to found the Long Island Aviation Country Club, an exclusive flying club and participated in the 19,312-meter (12,000-mile) Sportsman Air Tour to promote the establishment of clubs around the country. She was also a founder of Sportsman Pilot magazine. Nichols set several women’s records in 1931, among them a speed record of 339.0952 kph (210.704 mph), an altitude record of 8,760 meters (28,743 feet), and a nonstop distance record of 3182.638 kilometers (1,977.6 miles). Her hopes to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean were dashed by two crashes of a Lockheed Vega in 1931, in which she was severely injured, and again in 1932. In 1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II. Nichols became a lieutenant colonel in the CAP. After the war she organized a mission in support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and became an advisor to the CAP on air ambulance missions. In 1958, she flew a Delta Dagger at 1,609 kph (1,000 mph) at an altitude of 15,544 meters (51,000 feet). A Hamilton variable pitch propeller (which allowed a pilot to select a climb or cruise position for the blades), from her Lockheed Vega is displayed in the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Nichols’ autobiography is titled Wings for Life.”
— Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Women In Aviation and Space History, The Golden Age of Flight.
10 April 1933: At Lago di Garda, Brescia, Italy, Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, flew the Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72, MM 177, the first of five float planes in the series, over a 3-kilometer course to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record of 682.08 kilometers per hour (423.83 miles per hour).¹
The following year, 23 October 1934, Agello would fly the fifth M.C. 72, MM 181, to 709.21 kilometers per hour (440.68 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course, breaking his own record by almost 30 kilometers per hour. ²
The Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 was designed by Ing. Mario Castoldi for Aeronautica Macchi-S.p.A. It was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal. It was 8.32 meters (27 feet, 3½ inches) long with a wingspan of 9.48 meters (31 feet, 1¼ inches) and height of 3.30 meters (10 feet, 10 inches). Surface radiators were placed on top of each wing and surface oil coolers on the floats.
The M.C.72 had an empty weight of 2,505 kilograms (5,523 pounds), loaded weight of 2,907 kilograms (6,409 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,031 kilograms (6,682 pounds).
The M.C. 72 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 50.256 liter (3,066.805 cubic inch), Fiat S.p.A. AS.6 24-cylinder dual overhead cam 60° V-24 engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 7:1. The engine produced 3,100 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. with 11.5 pounds of boost (0.79 Bar). It drove two counter-rotating, two-bladed, fixed-pitch propellers with a diameter of 2.59 meters (8 feet, 6 inches) through a 0.60:1 gear reduction. Each counter-rotating blade cancelled the torque effect of the other. The Fiat AS.6 was 3.365 meters (132.48 inches) long, 0.702 meters (27.638 inches) wide, and 0.976 meters (27.64 inches) high. It weighed 930 kilograms (2,050 pounds).
Five Macchi M.C.72 float planes had been built for the 1931 Schneider Trophy race, but problems with the Fiat AS.6 engine, which was essentially two AS.5 V-12s assembled back-to-back, prevented them from competing. Four test pilots, including Francesco Agello, had been selected to fly the airplanes for speed record attempts. Two of them, Captain Giovanni Monti and Lieutenant Stanislao Bellini, were killed while testing the M.C.72, and the third died in the crash of another type. The cause of the accidents were explosions within the engines’ intake tract. Though they ran perfectly on test stands, in flight, they began to backfire, then explode.
It was discovered by Francis Rodwell (“Rod”) Banks,³ a British engineer who had been called in to develop a special high-octane fuel, that the Fiat engineers had overlooked the ram effect of the 400 mile per hour (644kilometers per hour) slipstream. This caused the fuel mixture to become too lean, resulting in predetonation and backfiring. A modification was made to the intake and the problem was resolved.
Francesco Agello was twice awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and also awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valore aeronautico. In part, his citation read, “A high speed pilot of exceptional courage and, after competition in difficult and dangerous test flights during the development of the fastest seaplane in the world, twice he conquered the absolute world speed record.”
Capitano Agello was killed in a mid-air collision, 26 November 1942, while testing a Macchi C.202 Fogore fighter.
¹ FAI Record File Number 11836
² FAI Record File Number 4497
³ Air Commodore Francis Rodwell Banks, CB, OBE, Hon. CGIA, Hon. FRAeS, Hon. FAIAA, FIMechE., Finst. Pet., FRSA, CEng., MSAE; Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur; Commander, Legion of Merit; Орденъ Св. Станислава (Military Order of St. Stanislaus (Imperial Russia) (22 March 1898–12 May 1985)
30 March 1939: At 5:25 p.m., Ernst Heinkel Flugzeugwerke GmbH test pilot Hans Dieterle, flying a high-performance prototype fighter, the Heinkel He 100 V8, D-IDGH, entered a measured 3 kilometer course near the factory’s airfield at Oranienberg, Germany. He would attempt to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course.¹
FLIGHT described the record flight in its 20 April 1939 edition:
The F.A.I. regulations stipulate that for speed record purposes the flight must be made over a course 3 km. (1.86 miles) long. This is the distance over which the machine is timed, and while traversing it the aircraft must not exceed a height of 75 m. (264ft.). Before entering the 3,000 m. course the machine must pass through an approach 500 m. (1,640ft.) long, on which also the height must not exceed 75 m. The timing is done in two flights in each direction and the average speed of the four runs taken.
While turning at the end of of each run the pilot may fly as wide as he likes, i.e., any radius of turn may be used, but the machine must not at any time during the turn exceed a height of 400 m. (1,312ft.) Other aircraft flying at exactly 400 m. are used for checking that this stipulation is observed.
On the day of the record flight the preparations were completed at 5.15 p.m. and the aeroplanes carrying the official observers went up. Dieterle took off at 5.23 p.m. After completing his two runs in each direction he made a perfect landing 14 minutes after the start. Although the official speed of the runs could obviously not have been known to him, he must have been certain that he had beaten the record, for on leaving the machine he turned three handsprings in the exuberance of his youth (he is only 24). When the speeds had been worked out it was found that the average was 746.66 km./h (463.953 m.p.h.) The machine took only 14.464 sec. to cover the timed section.
Field Marshal Göring immediately promoted Herr Dieterle to Flight Captain: he is the youngest pilot to hold that rank in the German Luftwaffe.
—FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer, No. 1582. Vol. XXXV., Thursday, 20 April 1939, at Pages 395–396.
Dieterle’s officially-recognized World Record for Speed is 746.60 kilometers per hour (463.91 miles per hour). This exceeded the previous record which had been set by Dr.-Ing. Hermann Wurster on 11 November 1937,² flying a prototype Messerschmitt Bf 113R (Bf 109 V13), D-IPKY, by 135.65 kilometers per hour (84.29 miles per hour).
Dieterle’s new record would last less than one month, however. On 26 April 1939, Fritz Wendel flew another Messerschmitt prototype, Me 209 V1 (D-INJR) to 755.14 kilometers per hour (469.22 miles per hour).³
D-IDGH was the eighth He 100 prototype, V8 (Versuch 8). Two prototypes, V3 and V8, were modified for the speed record attempt. Their wingspan was shortened from the 30 feet, 10 inches (9.398 meters) of the earlier prototypes to 24 feet, 11½ inches (7.607 meters), with the wing area being reduced by about 25%. V3, D-ISVR, had a streamlined canopy, while V8 had a cut down windshield and canopy. V3 crashed during testing.
He 100 V8 was equipped with a highly-modified version of the Daimler-Benz DB 601A, a liquid-cooled, direct-injected and supercharged 33.929 liter (2,075.497-cubic-inches), inverted single-“underhead”-camshaft 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The supercharger was driven hydraulically. The standard production engine was rated at 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), and 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff (limited by a clockwork mechanism to 1 minute), using 87-octane gasoline. The propeller reduction gear ratio was 14:9. The DB 601A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high and 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
The modified DB 601A engine installed in D-IDGH used methyl alcohol injection and produced 1,800 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., although its service life was just 30 minutes. It drove a three-bladed Vereinigte Deutsche Metallwerke (V.D.M.) electrically-controlled, variable-pitch propeller through a 14:9 gear reduction.
He 100 V8 was painted overall gray and carried its civil registration as well as Balkenkreuz markings with identification 42C+11. It was later painted dark blue with gray undersides and Luftwaffe markings. D-IDGH was displayed at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany.
The Heinkel He 100 was a single-place, single-engine fighter which was produced in very small numbers. It was a more complex aircraft than the Messerschmitt Bf 109, which was already in production. For example, it used a system of surface-mounted evaporative coolers in the wings, rather than radiators, in an effort to reduce drag.
The production He 100D-1 was 26 feet, 11 inches (8.204 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 10 inches (9.398 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). It was armed with one 20 mm autocannon and two 7.92 mm machine guns.
30 March 1928: At Venice, Italy, Regia Aeronautica Major Mario de Bernardi, flying a Macchi M.52bis, established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 512.78 kilometers per hour (318.63 miles per hour).¹
Major de Bernardi was the first pilot to fly faster than 300 miles per hour (482.8 kilometers per hour).
The Macchi M.52bis was a specially-constructed single-place, single-engine float plane designed to compete in the Schneider Trophy Races. The airplane was 23 feet, 4¾ inches (7.131 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 9 inches (7.849 meters). It had a gross weight of 3,263 pounds (1,480 kilograms).
The M.52bis was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 34.677 liter (2,116.138-cubic-inch-displacement) Fiat Aviazone AS.3 dual overhead camshaft (DOHC), four-valve, 60° V-12 engine. The AS.3 had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.7:1. It 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.