Tag Archives: World Record for Speed Over a 3km Straight Course

23 October 1934

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica. (FAI)
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica. (FAI)

23 October 1934: At Lago di Garda, Brescia, Italy, Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew the Macchi Aeronautica M.C. 72 float plane, serial number MM 181, to an average speed of 709.21 kilometers per hour (440.68 miles per hour).¹

A contemporary news article described the event:

FLYING the Machi-Castoldi 72 seaplane (3,000 h.p. special 24-cyl. Fiat) at Lake Garda on Tuesday of last week, Warrant-Officer Francesco Agello, of the Italian Royal Air Force, raised his own world’s air speed record by putting up a mean speed (subject to homologation) of 709.202 km./hr. (440.677 m.p.h.) for the usual four flights. His previous record stood at 682.403 km./hr. (423.76 m.p.h.)

The weather conditions under which the attempts were made were ideal, there being just sufficient breeze to take the glassiness off the water, so assisting the takeoff. Temperature was suitable, and the air was free from bumps.

Just before 3 p.m. Agello took off and made four runs over the three-kilometre course, clocking as follows:—

[Direction]         Secs.               km./hr.          m.p.h

North-South     15 29/100        705.882        438.614
South-North     15 19.2/100     710.433        441.423
North-South     15 18.1/100     711.462        442.081
South-North     15 23.4/100     709.034        440.738

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello with his Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello with his record-setting Macchi M.C.72, MM 181. (FAI)

After the successful attempt a banquet was held in the Officers’ Mess at Desenzano in Agello’s honour. The speeds were announced, and Col. Bernasconi, who is in command of the High-speed Flight, stated that Signor Mussolini had honoured Warrant-Officer Agello by promoting him to a full lieutenant.

Only a few modifications had been made to the Macchi-Castoldi since the previous attempt, chief among them being the substitution of wooden floats for the metal ones previously used.

Illustration of the Fiat AS.6 V-24 aircraft engine, right side.
Illustration of the Fiat AS.6 DOHC V-24 aircraft engine, right side. (Old Machine Press)

As is well known. the most interesting feature of the machine is the extremely unconventional power-unit, the Fiat A.S.6. The problem of frontal area for such a powerful unit as was specified was solved by placing the twenty-four cylinders (totalling in capacity over fifty litres) in two rows, forming a 60 deg. “vee,” and further, arranging them in two mechanically independent groups.

Each group has its own crank shaft, but a single crank case is used for both. The crank shafts, which rotate in opposite directions, are coupled in the centre by spur-gear reduction units, which drive two airscrew shafts. One of these shafts is hollow, and the other operates within it. The two shafts run forward through the “vee” of the front unit, and each carries an airscrew; so that there are two of the latter, close together, but revolving in opposite directions.

Each engine unit has independent camshafts (two per engine), water pump and dual Marelli magnetos, but a common induction system is used, an eight-jet carburetter being mounted behind the rear unit and mixture being drawn from it passed to the cylinders by a supercharger geared up to 20,000 r.p.m. An interesting point is that this supercharger absorbs 200 h.p., and, since it is driven by the rear engine, the blades of the front airscrew (which the rear engine drives) are given different inclination to correct for the slight difference in power.

The power units develop 3,000 h.p. at 3,200 r.p.m., and weighs 2,045lb., giving a weight per h.p. of 0.706lb. The all-up weight of the machine, with pilot and full tanks, is 6,670lb.

British equipment figured in the success, for Castrol oil and K.L.G. plugs were used.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1349, Vol. XXVI, November 1, 1934, at Page 1152.

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, with the record-setting Macchi M.C.72, 23 October 1934.
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, with the record-setting Macchi M.C.72, 23 October 1934. (Historic Wings)
Left rear quarter view of the Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)
Left rear quarter view of a Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)

The Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 was designed by Mario Castoldi for Aeronautica Macchi. It was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal. It was 8.32 meters (27 feet, 3.5 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.48 meters (31 feet, 1.25 inches) and height of 3.30 meters (10.83 feet). The M.C.72 had an empty weight of 2,505 kilograms (5,512 pounds), loaded weight of 2,907 kilograms (6,409 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,031 kilograms (6,669 pounds).

It was powered by a 50.256 liter (3,067 cubic inch) liquid-cooled, supercharged Fiat S.p.A. AS.6 24-cylinder 60° dual overhead cam (DOHC) V-24 engine with 4 valves per cylinder. The engine produced 3,100 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. and drove two counter-rotating metal two-bladed fixed pitch propellers with a diameter of 8 feet (2.56 meters). The counter-rotating blades cancelled the torque effect of the engine.

Surface radiators were placed on top of each wing and surface oil coolers on the floats.

Radiators were placed on the upper surface of each wing. (Aeronautica Militare)
Radiators were placed on the upper surface of each wing. (Aeronautica Militare) 
The Henry De la Vaulx Medal.
The Henry de la Vaulx Medal.

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 were killed while testing the M.C.72, and the third died when another airplane crashed. 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 Rod Banks, 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 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.

Macchi M.C.72 at Aeronautica Militare
Macchi M.C.72 MM 181 at the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force Museum) in Vigna di Valle, Italy. (Unattributed)

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.”

Captain Agello was killed in a mid-air collision, 26 November 1942, while testing a Macchi C.202 Fogore fighter.

Medalglia d'oro al valore aeronautico
Medalglia d’oro al valore aeronautico

¹ FAI Record File Number 4497

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 September 1935

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)
Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)

13 September 1935: Flying his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y,  Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course near Santa Ana, California. Making seven passes over the measured course, each in opposite directions, his average speed was 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour).¹ This was 61.27 kilometers per hour (38.07 miles per hour) faster than the previous record, set by Raymond Delmotte, 25 December 1934, flying a Caudron C.460 Rafale

Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1935, Page 3, Columns 2–5

Just after completing the final pass over the course, the airplane’s engine stopped due to fuel starvation. Hughes made a belly landing in a farm field. He was uninjured and the airplane received only minor damage.

Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a been field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935.
Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a farmer’s field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935. (AP)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

HUGHES WINS SKY RECORD AND CRASHES

Death Escaped in Mishap

Millionaire Flyer Forced Down After Averaging 347 Miles and Hour

     Howard Hughes, Millionaire sport flyer, missed death by a narrow margin yesterday morning a few seconds after he brought back to the United States the world’s speed mark for land planes when he averaged 347 miles an hour near Santa Ana.

Official confirmation of the new mark must await calibration of the speed over the measured three-kilometer course, bordering the Eddie Martin Airport, by the Federation Aeronautic Internationale of Paris, France. The figures are to be submitted following a conference between officials of the National Aeronautics Association and representatives of the California Institute of Technology.

TIMER CONFIDENT

     “I don’t expect any difficulty in having Hughes’s speed marks officially allowed,” said William R. Enyart, official timer, shortly after the mystery racing plane made a forced landing in a beet field and ploughed a furrow for sixty yards.

     Hughes had just completed his seventh lap against the former world record of 314.319 miles an hour, held by Raymond Delmotte of France, when he suddenly lifted the silver monoplane into the air as his fourteen-cylinder Wasp radial air-cooled engine sputtered.

     The pilot sought altitude, climbing to 500 feet. Then he turned and headed for the beet field, his engine stopped.

DEAD STICK LANDING

     Despite his landing speed of about eighty miles and hour, Hughes made a perfect “dead stick” landing as the ship flattened out on its lower side and slid through the soft ground. A bent propeller and wrenched landing gear were the only visible damage.

     “My gas supply in one tank was exhausted,” Hughes said as he stepped unhurt from the racer. When I switched on the other tank the motor didn’t take it. An air lock—pressure built up from the dry tank—had developed in the line and the only thing I could do was attempt a forced landing.”

WINS CONGRATULATIONS

     Hughes received the congratulations of numerous officials gathered to witness the assault on the speed record for his manipulation of the speedy ship and the perfect landing. Amelia Earhart, who had been flying as an observer, was one of the first to praise the pilot.

     “The stoppage in gas came so suddenly, Hughes said, “that I did not have time to lower the retractable landing gear. It was only partially down when the plane hit. The force drove it back into the ship and probably aided in preventing additional damage.”

SERIES OF CHECKS

     Six record-breaking tests were made as Hughes streaked over the course. An electronic chronograph photographed and clocked each flight. Four are required to officially set a new speed mark.

     Determination of Hughes to make his second record-breaking attempt early yesterday morning came as a surprise and after he and his assistants had spent the night checking over difficulties faced in the flight late Thursday afternoon.

     Hughes rolled his $120,000, 1000-horsepower, low-winged monoplane from the hangar at Union Air Terminal shortly after daylight and awaited word from officials at the measured course that all was in readiness.

     At 6:30 a.m. he flashed into the air and an hour and ten minutes later had made his successful seven flight when halted by the gas supply stoppage.

     Hughes and associates announced that the next speed record he will attempt to break in his specially constructed racer will be the flight from Los Angeles to New York. The present time, 10 hours and 2 minutes, is held by Col. Roscoe Turner.

SCENE OF FLIGHT

     The record-breaking flight was made over the course on the Irvine ranch surveyed for the late Dr. Albert A. Michelson’s experiments to measure the speed of light. Joe Nikrent and W.H. Hitchman, representing the National Aeronautic Association, helped time the dashes.

     In beating the Delmotte record by approximately twenty-nine miles an hour, Hughes brings back to America, the record once held by the late James Wedell. Wedell set a world mark of490.8 kilometers an hour, only to have it bettered by the French flyer last December 24.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, Saturday, 14 September 1935, Page 1, Column 4, and Page 3, Columns 3 and 4

The Hughes H-1, NR258Y, at rest in a farm field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1934. (Corbis)

The Hughes H-1 (Federal Aviation Administration records identify the airplane as the Hughes Model 1B, serial number 1) was a single-seat, single-engine low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. Emphasis had been placed on an aerodynamically clean design and featured flush riveting on the aluminum skin of the fuselage. The airplane was 27 feet, 0 inches long (8.230 meters) with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.6 meters) and height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). (A second set of wings with a span of 31 feet, 9 inches (9.677 meters) was used on Hughes’ transcontinental flight, 19 January 1937). The H-1 has an empty weight of 3,565 pounds (1,617 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms).

Hughes H-1B NX258Y at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (SDASM)

The H-1 was powered by a air-cooled, supercharged 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. Pratt & Whitney produced 18 civil and 22 military (R-1535) versions of the Twin Wasp Jr., in both direct-drive and geared configurations, rated from 650 to 950 horsepower. According to a 1937 article in Popular Mechanics,

“Hughes’ motor is a stock air-cooled fourteen-cylinder twin-row Pratt & Whitney wasp junior that develops 700 horsepower at 2,500 revolutions per minute at 8,500 feet altitude. The engine has an outside diameter of forty-four and one-eighths inches, a dry weight of 1,060 pounds, and a displacement of 1,535 cubic inches. Compression ratio is 6.7 to one and the supercharger ratio is ten to one. Carburetion and magneto ignition are stock.”

Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 67, No. 4, April 1937, at Page 502, Column 2

The data cited by Popular Mechanics seems to match the characteristics of P&W’s Twin Wasp Jr. S3A5-G aircraft engine.

The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Eric Long/NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8748

² FAI Record File Number 8749: 505.85 kilometers per hour (314.32 miles per hour)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 September 1953

Captain Harold E. "Tom" Collins, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the FAI World Speed Record setting North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6145. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots and Flight Test Engineers)
Captain Harold E. “Tom” Collins, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the FAI World Speed Record setting North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6145. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots and Flight Test Engineers)

1 September 1953: Captain Harold Edward Collins, United States Air Force, flying North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre, 51-6145, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course of 1,139.219 kilometers per hour (707.878 miles per hour) at Vandalia, Ohio.¹

North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6145, FAI World Speed Record holder.
North American Aviation F-86D-35-NA Sabre 51-6145, FAI World Speed Record holder.

This same F-86D (North American Aviation serial number 173-289) flown by Lieutenant Colonel William F. Barnes, set an FAI World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course of 715.697 miles per hour (1,151.803 kilometers per hour), 16 July 1953 at the Salton Sea, California. (FAI Record File Number 9868)

The F-86D was an all-weather interceptor developed from North American Aviation F-86 Sabre day fighter. It was the first single-seat interceptor, and it used a very sophisticated—for its time—electronic fire control system. It was equipped with search radar and armed with twenty-four unguided 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly.

The aircraft was so complex that the pilot training course was the longest of any aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, including the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

North American Aviation F-86D-1-NA Sabre
North American Aviation F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-463, the eighth production aircraft. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86D was larger than the F-86A, E and F fighters, with a longer and  wider fuselage. It was also considerably heavier. The day fighter’s sliding canopy was replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy. A large, streamlined radome was above the reshaped engine intake.

The F-86D Sabre was 40 feet, 3¼ inches (12.275 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1½ inches (11.316 meters), and overal height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). The interceptor had an empty weight of 13,518 pounds (6,131.7 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 19,975 pounds (9,060.5 kilograms). It retained the leading edge slats of the F-86A, F-86E and early F-86F fighters. The horizontal stabilizer and elevators were replaced by a single, all-moving stabilator. All flight controls were hydraulically boosted. A “clamshell” canopy replaced the sliding unit of earlier models.

The F-86D was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 engine. This was a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with afterburner. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-17 was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. It had a normal (continuous) power rating of 4,990 pounds of thrust (22.20 kilonewtons); military power, 5,425 pounds (24.13 kilonewtons) (30 minute limit), and maximum 7,500 pounds of thrust (33.36 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15 minute limit). (All power ratings at 7,950 r.p.m.) It was 18 feet, 10.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-86D was 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 532 knots (612 miles per hour/985 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and 504 knots (580 miles per hour/933 kilometers per hour)at 47,800 feet (14,569 meters).

A potential adversary of the North American Aviation F-86D Sabre all-weather interceptor was the Tupolev Tu-85 long-range strategic bomber.

The F-86D had an area intercept range of 241 nautical miles (277 statute miles/446 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). The maximum ferry range with external tanks was 668 nautical miles (769 statute miles/1,237 kilometers). Its initial rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second) from Sea Level at 16,068 pounds (7,288 kilograms). From a standing start, the F-86D could reach its service ceiling in 22.2 minutes.

The F-86D was armed with twenty-four 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) unguided Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads. They were carried in a retractable tray, and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12, or 24 rockets. The FFAR was a solid-fuel rocket. The 7.55 pound (3.43 kilogram) warhead was proximity-fused, or could be set for contact detonation, or to explode when the rocket engine burned out.

The F-86D’s radar could detect a target at 30 miles (48 kilometers). The fire control system calculated a lead-collision-curve and provided guidance to the pilot through his radar scope. Once the interceptor was within 20 seconds of its target, the pilot selected the number of rockets to fire and pulled the trigger, which armed the system. At a range of 500 yards (457 meters), the fire control system launched the rockets.

North American Aviation F-86D-60-NA Sabre 53-4061 firing a salvo of  FFARs.

Between December 1949 and September 1954, 2,505 F-86D Sabres (sometimes called the “Sabre Dog”) were built by North American Aviation. There were many variants (“block numbers”) and by 1955, almost all the D-models had been returned to maintenance depots or the manufacturer for standardization. 981 of these aircraft were modified to a new F-86L standard. The last F-86D was removed from U.S. Air Force service in 1961.

After its service with the United States Air Force, the record-setting Sabre 51-6145 was transferred to a NATO ally, the Ellinikí Vasilikí Aeroporía (Royal Hellenic Air Force).

North American Aviation F-86D-20-NA Sabre (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86D-20-NA Sabre 51-3045. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8869

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 August 1947

Major Marion E. Carl, USN, with a Douglas D-558-I Skystreak at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, with a Douglas D-558-I Skystreak at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Navy)

25 August 1947: Major Marion Eugene Carl, United States Marine Corps, flying the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course, averaging 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 miles per hour).¹ The Skystreak was flown over a course laid out on Muroc Dry Lake, site of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) in the high desert of Southern California.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters) or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two best consecutive passes out of the four.

Major Carl’s record exceeded one set by Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., U.S. Navy, just five days earlier by 10.053 miles per hour (16.178 kilometers per hour).

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy) 

The D-558 Program was intended as a three phase test program for the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to investigate transonic and supersonic flight using straight and swept wing aircraft powered by turbojet and/or rocket engines. The Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built three D-558-I Skystreaks and three D-558-II Skyrockets. The Phase I aircraft were flown by Douglas test pilot Eugene Francis (“Gene”) May, Navy Project Officer Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., and Major Marion Carl.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC; Gene May, Douglas Aircraft Company; Commander Turner F. Caldwell, USN.
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC; Gene May, Douglas Aircraft Company; Commander Turner F. Caldwell, USN.

The D-558-I Skystreak (also referred to as the D-558-1) was a single-engine, straight winged, turbojet-powered airplane. It was built of magnesium and aluminum for light weight, but was designed to withstand very high acceleration loads. It was 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.62 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1¾ inches (3.702 meters). The airplane had retractable tricycle landing gear. Its empty weight was approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms), landing weight at the conclusion of a flight test was 7,711 pounds (3,498 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 10,105 pounds (4,583.6 kilograms). The aircraft fuel load was 230 gallons (870.7 liters) of kerosene.

The D-558-I was powered by a single Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-11 was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms). The J35-A-11 was a production version of the General Electric TG-180, initially produced by Chevrolet as the J35-C-3. It was the first widely-used American jet engine.

The D-558-I had a designed service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,930 meters). Intended for experimental flights of short duration, it had a very short range and took off and landed from the dry lake at Muroc. (After 1949, this would be known as Edwards Air Force Base.) The experimental airplane was not as fast as the more widely known Bell X-1 rocketplane, but rendered valuable research time in the high transonic range.

Gene May did reach Mach 1.0 in 37970, 29 September 1948, though he was in a 35° dive. This was the highest speed that had been reached up to that time by an airplane capable of taking off and landing under its own power.

The three D-558-I Skystreaks made a total of 229 flights and Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of them. After the Douglas test program was completed, -970 was turned over to NACA as NACA 140, but it was quickly grounded after the crash of the number two aircraft, and was used for spare parts for number three.

Today, 37970 is in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The other surviving Skystreak, Bu. No. 37972, is at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina.

This painting depicts Major Marion E. Carl's speed record attempt over the 3 kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (Steve Cox, 24" x 30", acrylic on board)
This painting depicts Major Marion E. Carl’s speed record attempt over the 3 kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (Steve Cox, 24″ × 30″, acrylic on board)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9865

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1989

Lyle Shelton in the cockpit of Rare Bear. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

21 August 1989: Forty-five years to the day after the first flight of the prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat, Lyle Shelton flew his highly-modified Unlimited Class racing plane, the F8F-2 Rare Bear, N777L, over a 3 kilometer course at Las Vegas, New Mexico, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of  850.24 kilometers per hour (528.315 miles per hour),¹ and becoming the world’s fastest piston engine airplane.

Rare Bear had been built for the U.S. Navy at Grumman’s Bethpage, New York, plant, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 122629. It was a light-weight, high performance interceptor designed to operate from the Navy’s smaller aircraft carriers.

Among other things, the original 2,250 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp E12 (R-2800-30W) engine was replaced with a 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) hybrid Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone 18-cylinder radial engine and a 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meters) diameter Aero Products four-bladed propeller from a Douglas AD-Skyraider, with the cowling from a Douglas DC-7. This customized engine reportedly produced 4,500 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m, with 80 inches of manifold pressure.

Rare Bear won the National Air Races six times and set several speed and time to altitude records.

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 122629, Unlimited Class racer Rare Bear, N777L. (Kogo via Wikipedia)
Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 122629, Unlimited Class racer Rare Bear, N777L. (Kogo via Wikipedia)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8437

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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