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

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation, Inc., P-51B and P-51C Mustang racers, NX28388, NX4845N and NX5528N

P-51B NX28388
Jackie Cochran and her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. She flew this airplane in two transcontinental Bendix Trophy Races and set four world and national speed records. (Unattributed)

In the years following World War II, Jacqueline Cochran, WASP organizer and instructor, test pilot, racer, record-setter, adviser to generals and presidents, owned three North American Aviation, Inc., P-51 Mustang fighters which had been modified for racing.

 

I. P-51B-15-NA 104-25789, 43-24760, NX28388, 1946–1948

Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, 43-24760, registered NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

[Note: NX28388 should not be confused with NC28388, which was a Douglas DC-3 twin-engine airliner, registered to the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., 1 October 1940.]

Jackie’s first Mustang was a P-51B-15-NA, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760, with a civil experimental registration, NX28388, which was raced in the Bendix Trophy Race three times. Jackie also used it to set four world speed records over distances from 3 to 2,000 kilometers. NX28388 was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the white race number 13 on each side of its fuselage.

43-24760 was manufactured at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant, completed on 14 March 1944. It was a Model NA-104 P-51B Mustang with manufacturer’s serial number 104-25789, one of 1,588 Mustangs contracted by the U.S. Army Air Corps on 20 October 1942. Its service history is not known, but the fighters built just before and after, 43-24759 and 43-24761, were flown by the 361st Fighter Group from bases in England. Both were lost in combat during the summer of 1944.

After the end of World War II, 43-24760, identified as a TP-51B, was sold back to North American Aviation, Inc., by the War Assets Administration. North American paid “$3,500.00, cash in hand” at Denver, Colorado, 24 May 1946.

Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

Jackie Cochran bought 43-24760, now registered NX28388, from North American Aviation on 6 August 1946, for “ten dollars plus other consideration.” The Bill of Sale identifies the Mustang as a P-51B-15-NA, manufacturer’s serial number 25789. Its engine was a Packard V-1650-7, serial number V332415, a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12.

NX28388 was inspected for an initial Airworthiness Certificate, 7 August 1946. It was required to be marked “EXPERIMENTAL” and limited to “INSTRUMENT DAY FLIGHT – For Racing and exhibition flight only.” This initial airworthiness certificate was valid for six months.

On 26 August 1946, the Civil Aviation Administration issued a certificate of ownership to Jacqueline Cochran, “dba Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics” at her company’s Newark, New Jersey address. [Note: “dba” is an abbreviation for “doing business as”]

On 31 August 1946, Cochran flew NX28388 in the Bendix Air Race from Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys, California, to Cleveland Municipal Airport, Cleveland, Ohio. Other long distance air racers had their wings modified to hold more fuel, but there hadn’t been time to modify NX28388. For this race, it carried two drop tanks manufactured for the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Cochran placed 2nd to race winner Paul Mantz and his red P-51C NX1202, Blaze of Noon, who had finished with a time of 4:34:14 at an average speed of 435.501 miles per hour (700.871 kilometers per hour). Jackie’s elapsed time was 4:52:00, averaging 420.92 miles per hour (677.41 kilometers per hour). Mantz won the $10,000 prize for first place, and Jackie won a $5,500 prize.

The airplane received its next airworthiness inspection 19 August 1947. The report was signed by Louis S. Wait, Agent. Wait was the Administrative Test Pilot for North American Aviation, Inc. (Wait had made the first flight of AG345, the very first production Mustang Mk.I, on 23 April 1941.)

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, circa August 1946. Left profile. Color. (Unattributed)
North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with P-38 drop tanks, at Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys, California, August 1946. Left profile. Color. (Unattributed)

Cochran had entered the 1947 Bendix Trophy Race scheduled for 31 August, but her husband, Floyd Bostwick Odlum, became seriously ill. Jackie asked pilot Bruce Gimbel to fly her airplane. During the race, a problem with the propeller governor reduced his speed. Gimbel finished in 4th place with an average speed of 404.080 miles per hour (650.304 kilometers per hour) and elapsed time of 5:04:10. (Paul Mantz won the race, again, winning the $10,000 prize.)

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of her P-51B Mustang racer, NX23888. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of her P-51B Mustang racer, NX28388, at Cleveland Municipal Airport. (Image number SI-86-533, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

On 10 December 1947, Jackie flew NX28388 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers at Coachella, California, with an average speed of 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour).

Jackie Cochran's National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

A week later, 17 December 1947, she flew her green Mustang to an FAI World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course, with an average speed of 663.054 kilometers per hour (412.002 miles per hour). The flight at Thermal, California, was flown at Sea Level.

National Aeronautic association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

On 22 May 1948, again flying NX28388, Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and a U.S. National Aeronautic Association Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 2,000 Kilometers Without Payload with an average speed of 447.470 miles per hour (720.134 kilometers per hour) over a 1,242.7 mile course from Palm Springs, California to a point near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and return. Famed female aviator Katherine Stinson was the chief judge at the pylon turn west of Santa Fe. Jackie broke the previous record, 708.592 kilometers per hour (440.299 miles per hour), which had been set by Lieutenant John J. Hancock, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter, two years earlier. (FAI Record File # 8941)

In an interview, Jackie said, “Last Saturday’s flight was for blood. I bought this P-51 two years ago and ever since have been fixing it up for the one objective of beating the Army’s jet 2,000 kilometer speed record. The Bendix Race and other flights were just incidental. I knew that I couldn’t beat the 1,000 kilometer jet record today, and I also new that I could establish a new record for planes powered with reciprocating engines, so I made things slightly easier on the engine and myself in today’s flight. But even so, considering the double climb that I had to make at the check point to be seen and timed by the judges, it would have been impossible over this shorter distance to equal the 448 miles per hour flown last Saturday.”

WASP NEWSLETTER, July 1948, Volume V, Number Two, at Page 2.

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Two days later, 24 May 1948, Jackie set another world and national record of 431.094 miles per hour (693.780 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.371 miles) closed circuit from Palm Springs to Flagstaff, Arizona, and return. This record broke her own record which she had set 6 April 1940, flying a Republic AP-7.

Swopes
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

On 19 August 1948, NX28388 received another airworthiness inspection. The report was signed by J.E. Smith, Agent.

Jackie once again flew NX28388 in the 1948 Bendix Air Race from Long Beach, California to Cleveland, Ohio. She placed third with an average speed of 445.847 miles per hour and an elapsed time of 4:35:07.3. Paul Mantz and Blaze of Noon won the race for a third consecutive time. Linton Carney, also flying a P-51C, took second place. Cochran’s P-51B finished just 1 minute, 19 seconds behind Mantz.

Following the 1948 race, Cochran asked a friend and Lockheed test pilot, Sampson Held of North Hollywood, California, to fly her P-51 racer back to California, but,

“. . . my plane crashed, carrying my associate, Sam Held, with it to his death.”

The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 79.

NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing the pilot, Sampson Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

 

II. P-51C-5-NT 103-26311, 42-103757, Beguine, NX4845N, 1949

A rare color photograph of 42-103757 after its modifications appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, attributed to Aaron King. The racer is dark blue with gold trim.
This rare color photograph of 42-103757 after its modifications appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, attributed to Aaron King. The racer is dark blue with gold trim.

North American Aviation P-51C-5-NT 42-103757 was one of a group of 1,350 Mustangs contracted by the U.S. Army Air Corps in August 1942. It was built at North American’s Dallas, Texas, plant, 25 April 1944. Its North American contract number was 103-26311. The fighter’s military service history is not known.

Immediately after the close of World War II, 6 October 1945, 42-103757 was transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (a Depression-era agency of the United States government) at Searcy Field (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma. On 19 February 1946, it was included in a group of 475 war surplus airplanes, including heavy and medium bombers and fighters, purchased by aviator Paul Mantz of Burbank, California. On the same day, Mantz resold 464 of these airplanes to a partnership of himself, J.W. Heath and L.P Hapgood, for $70,000. 42-103757 was one of 6 North American P-51Cs in this second group.

Mantz, Heath & Hapgood sold 42-103757 to Frank J. Abel, 3101 Sherwood Lane, Wichita Falls, Texas, for $1,500.00 on 21 July 1947. Abel registered the airplane with the Civil Aeronautics Administration and it was assigned registration number NX4845N.

On 10 July 1948, Frank Abel sold the P-51 to J.D. Reed Co., Inc., an aircraft sales dealership at Hangar 8, Municipal Airport, Houston, Texas, now known as William P. Hobby Airport (HOU). The Bill of Sale reported the purchase price as “one dollar and other consideration.” J.D. Reed Co., Inc., applied to the C.A.A. for registration of 42-103757 on the same date. However, a new C.A.A. Certificate of Registration was issued to Abel on 12 July 1948.

An annual airworthiness inspection of 42-103757 was completed by Paul E. Penrose, Pilot-Engineer, 20 August 1948, for the J.D. Reed Co., Inc. The report indicates that the P-51C was equipped with a Packard V-1650-9. This engine was rated at 1,380 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The Airworthiness Certificate was approved in the Experimental category by C.A.A. Inspector Homer L. Stamets, 29 August 1948, and appropriate limitations were assigned.

During 1948–1949, 42-103757 was radically modified as an Unlimited Class air racer. The lower portion of the P-51’s fuselage was removed and faired over. The radiator and engine oil cooler which had been enclosed in the Mustang’s characteristic belly scoop were relocated to the wingtips. (The Air Force had experimented with a ramjet-powered P-51D, 44-63528. A Marquardt XRJ-30-MA ramjet was placed on each wingtip. The cooling pods on 42-103757 resemble these, though another source says that the cooling pods were made from modified FJ-1 Fury fuel tanks.) No reports of these modifications are found in the airplane’s records with the Federal Aviation Administration, however.

North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX4845N, #7, “Beguine”, being towed at the 1949 Cleveland National Air Races. (Catalog # 15_002190, Charles M. Daniels Collection, Album “Cleveland 46, 47, 48, 49,” San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX4845N, #7, “Beguine”, being towed at the 1949 Cleveland National Air Races. (Catalog # 15_002190, Charles M. Daniels Collection, Album “Cleveland 46, 47, 48, 49,” San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The airplane was named Beguine after a popular song of the time performed by Artie Shaw, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” It was painted dark blue and the music from the song was painted in gold along the Mustang’s fuselage, with the race number 7.

The next annual inspection was completed 12 August 1949 by (H.C. Danaher?), Mechanic. The airworthiness certificate was approved by C.A.A. Inspector Ray K. Beckleman.

Right rear quarter view of the modified Mustang air racer, Beguine. (Unattributed)
Right rear quarter view of the modified Mustang air racer, Beguine. (Unattributed)

I bought a Bequine (sp) racing plane in 1949 on the insistence of Bill Odom, a young pilot, who wanted to use it in the Thompson Trophy pylon race in Cleveland. He agreed to take the old number off . . . and paint the lucky 13 in its place. Two days before the race he called me long distance to say that the plane’s paint job was so beautiful that it would be a shame to ruin it repainting a number 13.

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiographyby Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, at Page 157.

For the 1949 National Air Races, Jackie Cochran bought Beguine for pilot William P. Odom to fly in the Sohio Trophy Race and the Thompson Trophy Race, both pylon races flown over a 15 mile, seven-turn course near the Cleveland Municipal Airport at Cleveland, Ohio. Odom had not flown in a pylon race before, but had gained fame for a number of record flights, including a 78 hour, 55 minute, 6 second around-the-world flight with co-pilot and navigator T. Carroll Sallee in a Douglas A-26 Invader, Reynolds Bombshell, 12–16 April 1947. Jackie also  planned to fly Beguine herself in the 1950 Bendix Trophy Race.

Cochran purchased NX4845N from J.D. Reed Co., Inc., for “$10.00 & Other Valuable Considerations” on 22 August 1949. She submitted an Application for Registration to the Civil Aeronautics Administration, but it does not appear that a new Certificate of Registration was ever issued.

Jackie Cochran and William P. Odom with the Sohio Race trophy. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran and William P. Odom with the Sohio Race trophy. (Unattributed)

Bill Odom won the 105-mile (167 kilometer) Sohio Trophy Race with an average speed of 388.393 miles per hour (625.058 kilometers per hour).

The Thompson Trophy Race on 5 September 1949 was different. Odom had qualified Beguine with a speed 405.565 miles per hour (652.694 kilometers per hour).

With Bill Odom in the cockpit, the airplane quickly took the race lead, but it went out of control in the second lap around the course. As it approached Pylon 4, the P-51 rolled upside down and then crashed into a brand-new house near the airport, setting it on fire. Odom and two people on the ground, Jeanne Laird and her 13-month-old son, Gregg, were killed. Odom’s body could only be identified by his wristwatch. This tragedy ended the National Air Races at Cleveland.

The Laird home at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio burns after the unlimited-class racer Beguine crashed into it, 5 September 1949. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
The Laird home at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio, burns after the unlimited-class racer Beguine crashed into it, 5 September 1949. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

In her autobiography, Jackie Cochran wrote, I was in the judges’ stand handling telephone reports from the back of the stands’ pylons when the flash came through that Bill had crashed. I jumped into a helicopter that was just in front of me on the field and went out to the spot of the accident hoping that something could be done. I found the house on fire, with Bill and the plane, as well as some of the occupants, buried in the wreckage. Some news photographer snapped a picture of me standing there close by. I am in that picture the personification of abject desolation. For three days I stayed in Cleveland doing all that I could to honor Bill Odom’s memory. — The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter V at Page 96.

“This is a terrible blow to aviation everywhere,” said Jacqueline Cochran, owner of the plane Odom was flying, when she got to the Laird home minutes after the accident. “My heart goes out to the innocent sufferers whose home this was.” Chicago Tribune, Vol. CVII–No. 214, Wednesday, 7 September 1949, at Page 1, Column 6.

 

Left profile drawing of Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s unlimited class North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (Image courtesy of Tim Bradley, © 2014)
Left profile drawing of Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s Unlimited Class North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (Image courtesy of Tim Bradley, © 2014)

III. P-51C 2925, NX5528N, THUNDERBIRD, 1949–1953

Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, serial number 43-6822, civil registration N5528N. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s cobalt blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (FAI)

Having lost her first two Mustangs in tragic accidents, on 19 December 1949 Jackie Cochran bought another P-51 Mustang racer—the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race winner, Thunderbird—from the Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander, James M. Stewart.

The earliest document in Thunderbird‘s Civil Aviation Administration file, Form ACA 132, contains the hand-written notation, “no service no.” The document states, “THIS AIRCRAFT WAS ASSEMBLED FROM COMPONENTS OF OTHER AIRCRAFT OF THE SAME TYPE.” The aircraft is designated on the form as a North American P-51C, Serial No. 2925.

Thunderbird, made up of salvaged parts, has no known Army Air Corps serial number. No North American Aviation contract number is listed in any document. It has no known history prior to the C.A.A. assigning it the civil registration NX5528N. The serial number 2925 does not conform to any U.S. Army Air Corps serial number sequence for P-51 series aircraft, nor does it conform to any N.A.A. contract number sequence for P-51s. It appears that this serial number was assigned to the P-51 by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Various sources attribute U.S.A.A.C. serial numbers to NX5528N, e.g., “43-6822” and “43-6859.” There is nothing in the airplane’s C.A.A. records to substantiate these claims. The record specifically states that there is “no service no.” Some sources also describe Thunderbird as a P-51B or an F-6C photo reconnaissance variant. C.A.A. records specifically identify the airplane as a P-51C.

Thunderbird‘s fuselage was purchased as “salvage & scrap” from the 803rd A.A.F. Specialized Depot, Park Ridge, Illinois, by Allied Aircraft Co., Chicago, Illinois. The transaction is dated 14 January 194_  (the year was left blank on the contract). The purchase price was $27.05. Allied Aircraft Co. was a partnership of Leland H. Cameron and Martha L. Cameron, 5300 W. 63rd Street, Chicago, Illinois.

On 11 February 1948, Cameron purchased a P-51, Serial No. 2925, registration N5528N, from J. Quaine, for $1.00. On 5 April 1948, the Civil Aeronautics Authority (predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration) registered N5528N to L.H. Cameron, 4619 Sancola Avenue, North Hollywood, California.

Two days later, 7 April 1948, Leland Cameron sold N5528N to Joe De Bona Racing Co., 133 N. Robertson Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California. The purchase price listed on the Department of Commerce Bill of Sale was $10.00. On that date, Joe De Bona applied to have the airplane registered in the name of his racing company.

Interestingly, on De Bona’s Department of Commerce Application for Registration, the serial number of N5528N is listed as “21925.” Information on the application is typewritten with the exception of this serial number, which was handwritten. As above, 21925 does not conform to any Army Air Corps or North American Aviation serial number for P-51B or P-51C Mustangs. This is the only instance in which 21925 appears in the airplane’s C.A.A. records.

Joe C. De Bona in the cockpit of N5528N. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Joe C. De Bona in the cockpit of N5528N. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Joe C. De Bona and James M. Stewart with Thunderbird, a North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (LIFE Magazine)
Joe De Bona and James M. Stewart with Thunderbird, a North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, April 1949. (Allan Grant/LIFE Magazine)

The Civil Aeronautics Administration registered N5528N to Joe De Bona Racing Co., 15 April 1948. Joe C. De Bona was an experienced air racer. The company was a partnership between De Bona and James M. (Jimmy) Stewart.

Over the next several months, N5528N, now named Thunderbird, was prepared for the upcoming 1948 Bendix Trophy Race. Unnecessary equipment such as the self-sealing fuel cells, the fuselage fuel tank, etc., were removed to save weight. The airframe seams were filled with putty and sanded smooth. Many coats of primer were applied followed by the the high-gloss “cobalt blue” paint. Gold decorative trim was applied. Thunderbird‘s airworthiness category, EXPERIMENTAL, was painted under the canopy rail on each side. Sponsors’ logos and crew member’s names were painted on the left side of the fuselage beneath the canopy. (The significance of the anvil logo with the numbers “1853” is not known.) The rudder was painted in a checkerboard pattern and the race number 90 applied to both sides of the fuselage. The registration was painted vertically on the fin, the top of the right wing and the bottom of the left wing.

Joe De Bona and Jimmy Stewart with Thunderbird, their P-51C Mustang racer, April 1949. Placed on the ramp in front of the airplane is equipment that has been removed or replaced. Note the four "cuffed" Hamilton Standard propeller blades along the right side of the photograph. They have been replaced with un-cuffed and polished Hamilton Standard blades. (Allan Grant/LIFE Magazine)
Joe De Bona and Jimmy Stewart with Thunderbird, their P-51C Mustang racer, April 1949. Placed on the ramp in front of the airplane is equipment that has been removed or replaced. Note the four “cuffed” Hamilton Standard propeller blades along the right side of the photograph. They have been replaced with un-cuffed and polished Hamilton Standard “paddle” blades. (Allan Grant/LIFE Magazine)

On 31 August 1948, following an airworthiness inspection, C.A.A. Inspector Homer L. Stamets issued an original Airworthiness Certificate to NX5528N. The “Experimental” classification was used as there was no civil Type Certificate for North American’s P-51 fighters, and the C.A.A. had not tested or accepted the aircraft for any civilian use. The Experimental classification placed severe restrictions on De Bona’s use of Thunderbird. In the Operations Authorized section of the certificate it states, “Certificated for the purpose of Racing and Exhibition flights only; flights limited to the Continental limits of the UNITED STATES. Flights prohibited over thickly populated areas or large gatherings of people.” The certificate was valid for one year.

Noted on the Airworthiness Inspection form is that NX5528N was equipped with a Packard V-1650-3 engine. This license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 engine was standard equipment for early production P-51B and P-51C Mustangs. It was rated at 1,380 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. and 60 inches of manifold pressure.

The start of the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race took place on 4 September at Van Nuys, California. Joe De Bona was entered with Thunderbird, but was unable to complete the race. Reportedly low on fuel, he landed at Norwalk, Ohio. (As noted above, Jackie Cochran placed 3rd in this race flying NX28388.)

Joe De Bona polishes North American P-51C Mustang N5528N, “Thunderbird,” with Paul Mantz approaching, April 1949. Mantz’s P-51C NX1204, “Latin American,” is in the background. (Allan Grant/LIFE Magazine)
Joe De Bona polishes his cobalt blue North American P-51C Mustang NX5528N, “Thunderbird,” with Paul Mantz approaching, April 1949. Mantz’s pale green P-51C NX1204, “Latin American,” is in the background. (Allan Grant/LIFE Magazine)

For 1949 Thunderbird‘s engine was upgraded to a Packard V-1650-7. C.A.A. Inspector Stamets again approved its airworthiness inspection and issued another one-year Experimental certificate with same restrictions as previously.

Herman R. "Fish" Salmon awaits the starter's signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race at Rosamond Dry Lake. Mantz won the three years with his P-51C, NX1202, Blaze of Noon. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake. Paul Mantz had won the previous three years with this P-51C, NX1202, Blaze of Noon. Renamed Excalibur III, this airplane was flown across the North Pole by Charles Blair, and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
1949 ace winner Joe De Bona with the Bendix Trophy. De Bona flew Thunderbird in the 1948 and 1949 air races. (Unattributed)
1949 race winner Joe De Bona with the Bendix Trophy. De Bona flew Thunderbird in the 1948 and 1949 air races. (Unattributed)

The start of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race was relocated from Metropolitan Airport at Van Nuys to Rosamond Dry Lake, 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) north of Muroc Air Force Base (renamed Edwards AFB just two months later). This year Joe De Bona was successful. He won the 2,008 mile (3,231.6 kilometers) race to Cleveland, Ohio in an elapsed time of 4:16:17.5, averaging 470.136 miles per hour (756.611 kilometers per hour.) Paul Mantz did not fly in the race but entered two P-51Cs, flown by Stanley H. Reaver and Herman “Fish” Salmon, who placed 2nd and 3rd.

(Leland Cameron, who had sold N5528N to Joe De Bona Racing, also competed in the 1949 Bendix air race. He flew a Martin B-26C-20-MO Marauder medium bomber, serial number 41-35071, N5546N, but he did not finish within the prescribed time limit.)

On 19 December 1949, James Stewart (Sole Owner, for Joe De Bona Racing Co.) sold N5528N to Jacqueline Cochran of Indio, California, for “$1.00 and other consideration.” The C.A.A. issued a new Certificate of Registration to Jackie on 29 December 1949.

Jackie Cochran with her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her cobalt blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, circa 1949. She set three world speed records with this airplane. (FAI)

That same day Jackie Cochran flew her new airplane, Thunderbird, to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a 500 kilometer Closed Circuit Without Payload, and a U.S. National Aeronautic Association record, with an average speed of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour). (FAI Record File Numbers 4476, 12323)

Jackie Cochran's record-setting North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Thunderbird.
Jackie Cochran’s record-setting North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N, Thunderbird. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang N5528N.
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N, Thunderbird. The dark blue airplane is carrying Joe De Bona’s race number, 90, on the wings and fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Thunderbird underwent another airworthiness inspection, completed 10  November 1950 by Patrick J. Kavanaugh, A&E 402226. C.A.A. Inspector H.W. Kattleman issued a new Experimental airworthiness certificate, valid from 10 November 1950 to 10 November 1951. The limitations were identical to the restrictions described above.

Jackie set another Fédération Aéronautique Internationale record on 9 April 1951, flying NX5528N to an average speed of 747.338 kilometers per hour (464.374 miles per hour) over a straight 16 kilometer (9.942 miles) course at Indio, California. (FAI Record File Number 4477)

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Thunderbird, North American P-51C Mustang, N5528N, circa 1951. (FAI)
Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s North American P-51C Mustang, NX5528N, circa 1951. (FAI)

The next airworthiness inspection of N5528N was completed 26 March 1952 by mechanic James N. Smith. Once again, C.A.A. Inspector H.W. Kattleman issued an Experimental airworthiness certificate, valid from 31 March 1952 to 31 March 1953.

Jackie Cochran had owned Thunderbird for just over three years when, on 20 January 1953, she sold it back to Jimmy Stewart for “$1.00 and other consideration.” The C.A.A. registered N5528N to Stewart at 141 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, California, 9 April 1953.

Thunderbird received another engine upgrade, this time to a Packard V-1650-9, serial number V381230. (This engine was rated at 1,380 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., but could produce a maximum 2,280 horsepower with water-alcohol injection.) The next airworthiness inspection was completed 31 March 1953 by a mechanic with certificate number M-17807. At the time of this inspection, N5528N had accumulated 76:00 hours total flight time (TTAF). The V-1650-9 engine had only 14:10 hours. C.A.A. Aviation Safety Agent Ralph C. Olsen approved the next airworthiness certificate.

On 30 March 1954, another airworthiness inspection was completed by the same mechanic as the 1953 periodic inspection. Once again, the airworthiness certificate was approved by Ralph Olsen. Total flight time for N5528N was now 118:00 hours, with 42:50 on the Merlin engine.

At about this time, N5528N was repainted in a yellow and black scheme, and renamed Mr. Alex in honor of Jimmy Stewart’s father, Alexander Maitland Stewart.

Jimmy Stewart crouches on Mr. Alex' wing, while Joe De Bona occupies the cockpit. (Unattributed)
Jimmy Stewart crouches on Mr. Alex’s wing, while Joe De Bona occupies the cockpit, 16 March 1954, prior to a non-stop transcontinental speed record attempt. Stewart is not wearing shoes so as to avoid scuffing the smooth surface of the wing. (Los Angeles Examiner Negatives Collection, 1950-1961/Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California)

A major event of 1953 was the Coronation of Elizabeth II on 2 June. American television networks CBS and NBC had arranged to have films of the ceremonies flown across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. From there the film would be flown on to the United States by Jimmy Stewart’s P-51 and another owned by Paul Mantz, NX1204, flown by Stanley Reaver.

Jimmy Stewart's P-51C N5528N, in the "Mr. Alex" paint scheme, 1953. (Unattributed)
Jimmy Stewart’s P-51C N5528N, in the “Mr. Alex” paint scheme, 1953. (Unattributed)

Jimmy Stewart asked the C.A.A. to temporarily remove the limitations on NX5528N’s airworthiness certificate so that it could be flown out of the United States to pick up the films at Newfoundland and return with them to Boston, Massachusetts. C.A.A. Aviation Safety Agent Ralph C. Olsen approved this request. A second flight to Montreal, Canada was also authorized. The restrictions would resume when the Experimental category Mustang returned to the United States after the Montreal trip.

Joe De Bona was once again in the cockpit of N5528N. He arrived at Boston 24 minutes before his rival, Stan Reaver, but a third network, ABC, was actually the first to broadcast the films of the Coronation.

On 1 September 1954, Jimmy Stewart sold N5528N to Joe De Bona for $1.00 plus a $7,500.00 Chattel Mortgage. On 14 March 1954, the C.A.A. registered the airplane, which they now designated as a North American F-51C, to De Bona at 339 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, California.

An airworthiness inspection was completed 17 March 1955. The mechanic performing the inspect held certificate number M7427. The V-1650-9 had been removed and replaced with a Packard V-1650-300, serial number V350012. This post-war engine was rated at 1,660 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The airframe now had 150:00 hours TTAF, and the new engine had 30:00 hours.

The following day, 18 March 1955, Joe De Bona sold N5528N to James M. Cook of Jacksboro, Texas, for $18,000 plus a $7,000 Chattel Mortgage at 4% interest, payable on or before 1 January 1956. The C.A.A. issued a Certificate of Registration to Cook on 31 March 1955.

On 22 June 1955, North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX5528N crashed near Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, while being flown by James Cook. Although an official cause is not available, anecdotally, one of the P-51’s main landing gear failed to retract and Cook bailed out. Although an accident report was completed 13 July 1955, the Federal Aviation Administration currently has no report in its files, nor does the National Transportation Safety Board. The Mustang was deregistered 15 August 1955. (James Cook soon bought another Mustang, P-51D N71L, which he flew for several years as part of the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Thunderstorm Research Airplane Project.)

Warren A. Piestch of Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair, Inc., Minot, North Dakota, purchased a tail wheel assembly and other parts from a wrecked P-51 located in Nebraska, 23 June 1999. He wrote to the F.A.A. and stated that these parts were from P-51 serial number 2925, and that he wanted to rebuild the aircraft. Pietsch requested that ownership of 2925 be assigned to him and that a registration N-number that he had previously reserved, N151LP, be assigned to the airplane. The F.A.A. did as Pietsch requested. This registration was valid until 30 April 2015. The status of Mr. Pietsch’s restoration is not known, and how much of the original Thunderbird he has salvaged, if any, is also not known.

IV. NORTH AMERICAN AVIATION, INC., P-51B and P-51C MUSTANG FIGHTERS

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

Cutaway illustration shows the internal arrangement of the P-51B/C Mustang.
Cutaway illustration shows the internal arrangement of the P-51B/C Mustang. (Eugene Clay, North American Aviation, Inc.)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

North American P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12433. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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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 four passes over the measured course, two in each direction, 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 which had been set by Raymond Delmotte, 24 December 1934.

Hughes H-1 Special NR258Y. (FAI)
Hughes H-1 Special NR258Y. (FAI)

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. (Unattributed)

The Hughes H-1 (Fedral 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).

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. It is not known which version powered the H-1, but various sources report that it was rated from 700 to 1,000 horsepower. The engine drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable pitch propeller.

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

© 2017, 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 (70 millimeter) Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly. The rockets could be fired in salvos of 6, 12 or 24. They had a 6 pound (2.7 kilogram) high explosive warhead and used a proximity fuse.

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 first production variant, F-86D-1-NA, had an empty weight of 13,677 pounds (6,204 kilograms) and gross weight of 16,292 pounds (7,390 kilograms).

The F-86D was equipped with a General Electric J47-GE-17 turbojet engine, rated at 5,425 pounds of thrust, or 7,500 pounds with afterburner. (Aircraft completed after 1954 were equipped with a J47-GE-33.) It had a top speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (0.909 Mach).

The F-86D had a range of 330 miles (531 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). Its rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second).

A production North American Aviation F-86D-15-NA Sabre, 50-574, launches 2.75-inch rockets. (U.S. Air Force)
A production North American Aviation F-86D-15-NA Sabre, 50-574, launches 2.75-inch rockets. (U.S. Air Force)

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

© 2017, 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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