Tag Archives: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course

3 October 1953

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, in the cockpit of the record-setting Douglas XF4D-1. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

3 October 1953: Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, a test pilot assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flew the second prototype of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 124587, over a three kilometer course at the Salton Sea, California. Flying at approximately 150 feet (46 meters), Commander Verdin made four passes, with two in each direction. He set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 3-kilometer course, averaging 1,211.75 kilometers per hour (752.95 miles per hour).¹

The runs were measured at 746.075, 761.414, 746.053 and 759.498 miles per hour (1,200.691, 1,225.377, 1,200.656, and 1,222.294 kilometers per hour). The total elapsed time for the flight, from take off to landing at NAS El Centro, was 20 minutes, 25 seconds. The XF4D-1 burned 575 gallons (2,177 liters) of fuel.

In an interview with famed writer Bob Considine for his newspaper column, Verdin said,

“Douglas had its high priced help there at the course, and they iced my fuel for the Skyray while I took a look at the course from a Grumman Cougar,” he remembered. “They ice the fuel because that shrinks it and you can pack more in.

“We towed her out to the starting line to save the stuff. Didn’t even use blocks on the wheels after the engine was started. Just started rolling. I was in the air a little over a minute after the engine started, and headed for the measured course, 40 miles away.

“It was marked for me by smudge pots and burning tires, and orange-red markers to tell me when to turn off my afterburner, which eats fuel like crazy. About five miles short of the line I was doing 620 and turned on the afterburner. It gave me another hundred miles an hour right away, and I held her steady and low over the course. It doesn’t take long. . . about nine seconds for the just under two miles.”

—Bob Considine, On the Line—By Considine, International News Service, published in The Daily Review, Hayward, California, Vol. 62, No. 21, 20 October 1953, Page 14 at Columns 1–3

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine delta-winged fighter powered by a turbojet engine. It had retractable tricycle landing gear and was to operate off of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers as a high altitude interceptor. The Skyray was designed by the legendary Ed Heinemann, for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1954. Two prototypes were built (Bu.Nos. 124586, 124587). It was a delta-winged aircraft, though the wingtips were significantly rounded.

The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was 45 feet, 4¾ inches (13.837 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters). The empty weight was 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,116 pounds (12,300 kilograms).

Originally built with Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engines, both prototypes later had a Westinghouse J40-WE-8 afterburning turbojet installed. The Skyray was equipped with the Westinghouse engine when it set the speed record. Production Skyrays used a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 afterburning turbojet.

The Westinghouse J40-W-8 was a single-shaft, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. It produced 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons) at 7,600 r.p.m. The engine was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) long, 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The F4D-1 was the first U.S. Navy fighter able to reach supersonic speeds in level flight. The production aircraft had a maximum speed of 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour), and service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16.764 meters). Its rate of climb was 18,300 feet per minute (92.97 meters per second) and the maximum range was 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The Skyray was armed with four Colt Mk 12 20 mm autocannon, with 65 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could also carry 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or two 2,000 pound (1,588 kilogram) bombs.

The Douglas Aircraft Company built 420 F4D-1 Skyrays. They were in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 until 1964.

Douglas XF4D-1 124587 as a test aircraft for General Electric.
Douglas XF4D-1 Bu.No. 124587 as a flight test aircraft for General Electric, at Edwards Air Force Base, circa 1955. (U.S. Navy)

The record-setting XF4D-1 was transferred to General Electric in July 1955 and used to test GE’s J79 afterburning turbojet engine and the commercial CJ805.

XF4D-1 Bu. No. 124587 was returned to the Navy in May 1960. It is on display at the U.S. Navy Museum of Armament and Technology, NAWS China Lake, California.

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)

James Bernard Verdin was born in Montana, 23 February 1918, the son of James Harris Verdin, a farmer, and Nellie Cambron Verdin. He entered the United States Navy as a Seaman, 2nd Class, 11 July 1941. His enlistment was terminated 7 January 1942 and he was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. Verdin was commissioned as an Ensign, 18 June 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade), 1 May 1943, and then promoted to Lieutenant, 1 July 1944.

During World War II, Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, U.S.N., was a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, assigned to VF-20 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while service as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY (VF-20), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), on a strike against the Japanese Fleet during the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944, in the Philippine Islands. With complete disregard for his own personal safety and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, Lieutenant Verdin attacked and scored a direct bomb hit on an enemy battleship. His outstanding courage and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 046. 31 January 1945

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats on teh flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 october 1944. The aircraft carrier USS belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon, after being struck by a kamikaze. (U.S. navy)
Grumman F6F Hellcats on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 October 1944. The aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Verdin flew more than 100 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In addition to the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Commander Verdin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star, and the Air Medal with five gold stars.

Verdin left the Navy in 1954 and joined Douglas as a test pilot, June 1954.

He married Miss Kathryn    and they lived in Coronado, California, near NAS North Island. They had one child. They divorced in 1948. Later, he married his second wife, Miss Muriel Carolyn Larson. They had three children and lived in Brentwood, California.

While testing a Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137815, 13 January 1955, Lieutenant Commander Verdin encountered violent vibrations during a high speed run near Victorville, California. He was forced to eject, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was not found until the following day, located 2½ miles from the crash site. Verdin was 37 years old. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin's Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin’s Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9871

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1931

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 at the London Science Museum

29 September 1931: After waiting all day for the fog to clear, at 5:49 p.m., Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot, made a 43-second takeoff run and began an attempt to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. His airplane was a Supermarine S.6B, number S.1595, the same seaplane that won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider race on 13 September.

The High-Speed Flight had originally intended to use the second S.6B, S.1596, fitted with a specially-prepared Rolls-Royce Type R engine, for the 3 kilometer record attempt. S.1596 had been damaged on landing after a test flight, 16 September. While being towed back to RAF Calshot, the airplane sank. Fortunately, the special speed record engine, number R27, was not installed in S.1596 at the time of the accident.

Supermarine S.6B S.1595

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 had engine R27 installed, along with a new airscrew provided by Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. Also new was the fuel mixture of “wood alcohol” (methanol), gasoline and ethanol, being used in the engine for the first time.

During the speed runs, the High-Speed Flight squadron engineering officer flew along the course at an altitude of 400 meters, carring a sealed barograph. This would later be used to calibrate the time measurements.

The course was flown between Hill Head and Lee-on-Solent, on the Hampshire shoreline, with Flight Lieutenant Stainforth making four runs, two in each direction, to minimize the effect of winds.

The runs were:

Run 1: 415.2 miles per hour (668.2 kilometers per hour)

Run 2: 405.1 miles per hour (651.9 kilometers per hour)

Run 3: 409.5 miles per hour (659.0 kilometers per hour)

Run 4: 405.4 miles per hour (652.4 kilometers per hour)

Average: 408.8 miles per hour (657.9 kilometers per hour)

The official record time as published by the FAI is 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour).¹ George Stainforth was the first pilot to fly faster than 400 miles per hour.

Air Ministry,

9th October, 1931.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Air Force Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force :—

Flight Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman.

In recognition of his achievement in winning the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931.

Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth.

In recognition of his flights with the High Speed Flight of the Royal Air Force in connection with the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931, culminating in the establishment of a world’s speed record on 29th September, 1931.

Flight, No. 1193 (Vol. XXIII, No. 45), Thursday, November 6, 1931 at Page 1110, Column 1.
Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S.

S.1595 was Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplane, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two S.6Bs, with the second identified as S.1596.

The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).

In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.

Rolls-Royce Type R SOHC 60° V-12 racing engine. (FLIGHT)

For the 3 kilometer record, S.1595 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R27. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a forged duralumin Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). R27 weighed 1,630 pounds (739 kilograms).

There would have been no 1931 British Schneider Trophy Race team without the generous contribution of Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who donated £100,000 to Supermarine to finance the new aircraft. Lady Houston would later sponsor the 1933 Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition.

The record-setting aircraft, S.1595, is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.

George Hedley Stainforth was born in 1899, the son of George Staunton Stainforth, a solicitor, and Mary Ellen Stainforth. Stainforth was married to Gladys Imelda Stainforth.

Staunton was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and served with the British Army. In 1923, he transferred to the Royal Air Force.

George Hedley Stainforth, 1929. (Stainforth Historical Archive)

In 1929, Staunton won the King’s Cup Air Race, and on 10 September, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 541.10 kilometers per hour (336.22 miles per hour) while flying a Gloster Napier 6 powered by a Napier Lion VIID broad arrow W-12 engine.²

During World War II, Wing Commander George Hedley Stainforth, A.F.C., commanded No. 89 Squadron in Egypt. The New York Times reported that he was “the oldest fighter pilot in the Middle East.” On the night of 27–28 September 1942, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter near the Gulf of Suez, Stainforth was killed in action. He was buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

¹ FAI Record File Number 11831

² FAI Record File Number 11829

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 September 1937

Jackie Cochran sits in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-S1, NR18Y. Note how the landing gear retracts straight to the rear in this early version. It would be modified to retract inward to the airplane’s centerline, and more effectively streamlined in the future.

21 September 1937: Jackie Cochran flew a Seversky Aircraft Corporation SEV-S1, civil registration NR18Y, over a 3 kilometer course at Detroit Wayne County Airport, Romulus, Michigan, averaging 470.40 kilometers per hour (292.29 miles per hour). This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record.¹

The Seversky SEV-S1 Executive was an improved version of the P-35 fighter, which was the first U.S. Army Air Corps single engine airplane to feature all-metal construction, an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. It was designed by Major Alexander P. de Seversky. The airplane had been built as the SEV-2XP, a two-place monoplane with fixed landing gear, powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,666.860-cubic-inch-displacement (27.315 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division GR1670 two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. The GR1670A1 had a compression ratio of 6.75:1 and was rated at 775 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. The GR1670B2C had a compression ratio of 7.0:1 and was rated at 750 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 850 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for takeoff. These were developmental engines. Both variants had a propeller gear reduction ratio of 16:11. The SEV-2XP was to be a second entry, along with the SEV-1XP, to enter a fly-off at Wright Field. When it was damaged, though, it was rebuilt as a single place airplane with retractable landing gear and a 1,000-horsepower Wright Cyclone GR-1820G4 nine-cylinder engine, and designated SEV-1XP.

 The Seversky's passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-2S Executive, NR18Y. Note the passenger windows below and behind the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Seversky’s passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

After the Air Corps demonstrations, which resulted in an order for 100 P-35s, NX18Y was again repowered, this time with an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1B3-G (R-1830-11) two-row 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-11 was rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off, burning 87-octane gasoline. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton-Standard controllable-pitch propeller through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

With the R-1830, NR18Y was again redesignated SEV-S1. It was flown by Seversky’s chief test pilot, Frank Sinclair, at the 1937 National Air Races and the Bendix Trophy Race.

Major Alexander P. de Seversky and Jackie Cochran with a Seversky monoplane, circa 1937.
Major Alexander P. de Seversky and Jackie Cochran with a Seversky monoplane, circa 1937.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12026

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 September 1931

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (BAE Systems)

16 September 1931: Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth of the Royal Air Force high-Speed Flight, was flying the second Supermarine S.6B, S.1596, to test an alternate propeller before attempting a 3-kilometer speed record. As he landed on the water following the test flight, his foot became caught in the rudder bar. The S.6B skidded across the surface, and then capsized. Stainforth was able to escape with only minor injuries.

While it was being towed back to the seaplane station at RAF Calshot, the racer sank to the bottom of Southampton Water.

Divers were called in to locate the sunken airplane and to rig it for recovery. The following day, the 17th, a Royal Navy salvage ship recovered the airplane.

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 is hoisted from the sea onto a Royal Navy salvage ship, 17 September 1931. (FLIGHT)

The S.6B had sustained damage to one float and the cockpit, but was otherwise in reasonably good condition. It was returned to the Supermarine works for repairs.

S.1596 was the second of two Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplanes, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England

The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (BAE Systems)

In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.

S.1596 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R25. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). A special fuel, a mixture of benzol, methanol and acetone with TCP anti-detonation additive, was used. Engine R25 was specially prepared for the 3-kilometer speed runs.

The world record-setting Supermarine S.6B, S.1596, race # 7. (BAE Systems)

George Hedley Stainforth was born in 1899, the son of George Staunton Stainforth, a solicitor, and Mary Ellen Stainforth. Stainforth was married to Gladys Imelda Stainforth.

Staunton was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and served with the British Army. In 1923, he transferred to the Royal Air Force.

Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth, 1929. (Stainforth Historical Archive)

In 1929, Staunton won the King’s Cup Air Race, and on 10 September, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 541.10 kilometers per hour (336.22 miles per hour) while flying a Gloster Napier 6 powered by a Napier Lion VIID borad arrow W-12 engine.¹

Stainforth would set another 3-Kilometer world speed record on 29 September 1931, at 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour).² He was the first pilot to fly faster than 400 miles per hour. For this accomplishment, Stainforth was awarded the Air Force Cross.

During World War II, Wing Commander George Hedley Stainforth, A.F.C., commanded No. 89 Squadron in Egypt. The New York Times reported that he was “the oldest fighter pilot in the Middle East.” On the night of 27–28 September 1942, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter near the Gulf of Suez, Stainforth was killed in action. He was buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

¹ FAI Record File Number 11829

² FAI Record File Number 11831

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 September 1948

Major Richard L. Johnson, United States Air Force.
Major Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force. (Unattributed)
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre.
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre. (Unattributed)

15 September 1948: Major Richard L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Air Materiel Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,¹ flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

The air temperature was 70° F. (21° C.) with very little wind. Making four consecutive passes at an altitude of 75–125 feet (23 to 38 meters), the Sabre averaged 670.98 mph (1,079.84 kilometers per hour) — 0.889 Mach. The slowest pass was 669.830 miles per hour and the fastest was 672.762 miles per hour (1,077.987 and 1,082.705 kilometers per hour, respectively) — 0.8875–0.8914 Mach.

Major Richard L Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 SABRE, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 Sabre, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)

North American claimed that any F-86 coming off the assembly line could beat this world record speed. The record stood until 1952 when it was broken by an F-86D Sabre.

The Associated Press reported:

Air Force Tells Of New Speed

NEW YORK(AP) — The Air Force announced Saturday a new world speed record of 670.981 miles an hour, made with a fully armed standard jet fighter, the North American F-86.

The mark was set Wednesday. It is 20 miles an hour faster than the record set in August, 1947, by a Navy research plane, the Douglas D-558.

It was the first world speed mark in history for a production model aircraft ready to fight.

The pilot was Maj. Richard L. Johnson, slender quiet-spoken test flier for the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Airbase near Dayton Ohio. He flew the course at Muroc Lake, Calif., where the record was raised three times last year.

Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force chief of staff, announced the new mark at Mitchel Field, Long Island, where he participated in one of the numerous shows being held in observance of the first anniversary of the Air Force.

Eugene Register-Guard, Saturday, 18 September 1948, Page 1, Column 7.

Major Johnson had made a previous speed record attempt flying a different Sabre, but due to a technical problem with the timing equipment, that attempt was disqualified.

47-605 was the first production F-86A-1-NA Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
F-86A-1-NA 47-605 was the first production Sabre. It first flew on 20 May 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

47-611 was from the first production block of thirty-three F-86A-1-NA Sabres (originally designated P-86A) and was built at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant. Its NAA serial number was 151-38438.

The F-86A was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing day fighter, powered by a turbojet engine. The airplane’s design team was headed by Edgar Schmued, who was also responsible for North American’s legendary P-51 Mustang of World War II.

The F-86A had the same dimensions as the prototype XP-86 which had first flown almost two years earlier. The F-86A was 37 feet, 6.6 inches (11.445 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). It had an empty weight of 10,093 pounds (4,578 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).

North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86 wings’ leading edges were swept to 35° and included leading edge slats, which automatically extended at low speed to provide an increase in lift.

The F-86A was initially powered by a General Electric TG-190A (J47-GE-1) turbojet engine. This was a major improvement over the Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 that had powered the prototype, and it produced almost 25% greater thrust. The J47-GE-1 was rated at 4,850 pounds of thrust (21.57 kilonewtons), or 5,820 pounds (25.89 kilonewtons) with water injection. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, eight combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,475 pounds (1,123 kilograms).

Early in F-86A production, the engine was standardized with the J47-GE-13, which was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.13 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) “wet.” The -13 had the same exterior dimensions as the -1 engine, but weighed 50 pounds (23 kilograms) more.

North American Aviation F-86-A-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc./Chicago Tribune)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86A had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,093 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 601 miles per hour (967 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling as 48,000 feet (14,630 meters) and it could climb to 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. It had a range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre, a license-built F-86E, shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane's nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels' rifling. (Royal Canadian Air Force)
This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre (a license-built F-86E) test-firing its guns shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane’s nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels’ rifling. The total rate of fire is approximately 7,200 rounds per minute. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Designed as a day fighter, the F-86 Sabre was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 267 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The F-86A-1-NA had electrically-actuated doors covering the gun ports to maintain the aerodynamically clean surface. Because of their complexity, these doors were deleted beginning with the F-86A-5-NA aircraft.

The fighter could also carry bombs or rockets.

In this photograph, the record-holding North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, 47-611, is seen suspended from a crane while it conducts armament tests. It has just launched a 5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rocket. (U.S. Air Force)

Dick Johnson flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt during World War II. Following the war, he was selected for test pilot training. He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.” During the Korean War, Johnson was sent to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for Convair. He flew the YF-102, the F-106 Delta Dart (which had originally been designated F-102B) and the B-58 Hustler supersonic strategic bomber. He was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1977, Dick Johnson, now the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired. He died 9 November 2002.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9866

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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