Tag Archives: World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers

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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10 December 1947

Jackie Cochran with her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

10 December 1947: Near the Santa Rosa Summit in the Coachella Valley of southeastern California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). She set both a U.S. National and a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record.¹

This record still stands.

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 09.58.53NX28388 was the first of three P-51 Mustangs owned by Jackie Cochran. It was a North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang built at Inglewood, California in 1944. It was assigned NAA internal number 104-25789 and U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760. She bought it from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. The airplane was registered to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, Inc., 142 Miller Street, Newark, New Jersey, but was based at Jackie’s C-O Ranch at Indio, California. The Mustang was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the number 13 on each side of the fuselage, on the upper surface of the left wing and lower surface of the right wing.

NX28388 was powered by Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12, serial number V332415.

Jackie Cochran flew NX28388 in the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race and finished second to Paul Mantz in his P-51C Mustang, Blaze of Noon. Cochran asked Bruce Gimbel to fly the Mustang for her in the 1947 Bendix. There was trouble with the propeller governor and he finished in fourth place. In May 1948, Jackie set two more speed records with NX28388. Jackie and her green Mustang finished in third place in the 1948 Bendix race. She asked another pilot, Lockheed test pilot Sampson Held, to ferry the fighter back to California from Cleveland, Ohio after the race, 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 had crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing Sam Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

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 Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. The airplane behind the Mustang is Tex Johnston’s Bell P-39Q, “Cobra II.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B was the first production Mustang to be built with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was virtually identical to the P-51C variant. (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 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 and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). 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).

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.

Jackie Cochran and her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (Unattribued)
Jackie Cochran and her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4478

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 October 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

6 October 1961: During a two-month series of speed, distance and altitude record attempts at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, flying a Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551. Her average speed over the 62-mile circular course was 1,262.188 kilometers per hour (784.287 miles per hour).¹

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:

September 29: Edwards AFB. Flew the aircraft today to include a practice run on the 100 kilometer course. Jackie did a fine job at 1.2 Mach. Looks like this will be a piece of cake. Aircraft was okay. Average speed 742 miles per hour. Jackie was in the altitude chamber today with the pressure suit (CSU 4/P). Everything went fine and maximum altitude was 65,000 feet. This is the first time a woman was taken up in the chamber in a pressure suit. CSU 4/P was the type of suit.

October 3: Tried a run today but weather moved in from 26,000 to 37,000 feet. Very good landing. Airspeed system iced up and Jackie stalled the aircraft at 35,000 feet. Made a no-sweat recovery.

October 4: Ran the 100 kilometer for record at 1 pm. The first run wasn’t too good but had an average speed of 763 mph. A pylon was cut so the run was voided. Second run was 740 mph. Very poor. Another flight was made at 5:30 pm but both runs were pretty sorry. Jackie was a little late on all of the corrections. Jackie doesn’t seem to be in too good a physical or mental state.

October 5: I flew in the backseat of the T-38 with Jackie on a practice run of the 100 kilometer. I talked her around the course 2 times with a little help on the stick. First run was 782 mph and second run was 787. I think I know what has been Jackie’s trouble on the 100 km. During the flight as she starts gaining a little altitude, she lets off on the back pressure on the stick to stop climbing and this causes the turn to become larger. Jackie and I spent two hours talking this over. She finally understands that in order to fly a constant circle, if the airplane starts to climb, she must increase the bank angle and let off on the back pressure a little and let the nose drop but still hold the same rate of turn. This is what makes the 100 km so hard to fly. Jackie still has a touch of the flu.

October 6: Jackie felt better today and after a delay caused by communication trouble, she flew one of the most perfect runs that has ever been flown on the 100 km course. She learned her lesson well. The record speed was 784 mph. She held 1/4 mile outside the course the entire trip. I was very pleased to watch the reaction of the timers and radar people. I think they expected another 10 or 15 trips like the F-105 tricks. She made one hell of a good flight.

— Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306–307.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13036

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 September 1927

Flight Lieutenant Sidney N. Webster, RAF, leads the Schneider Trophy Race with his Supermarine S.5 N220. (Unattributed)
Flight Lieutenant Sidney N. Webster, RAF, leads the Schneider Trophy Race with the blue and silver Supermarine S.5 racer, N220. (Unattributed)
Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, Royal Air Force.
Flying Officer Sidney Norman Webster, Royal Air Force, circa 1919. (Unattributed)

26 September 1927: Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight, won the 1927 Schneider Trophy Race, flying a Supermarine S.5 float plane, number N220.

The course consisted of seven laps of a 50-kilometer course at Venice, Italy. Webster completed the race in 46 minutes, 20.3 seconds, averaging 281.656 miles per hour (453.281 kilometers per hour). He established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers.¹

Webster’s teammate, Flight Lieutenant Oswald Worsley, flying S.5 N219, placed second with a time of 47:46.7 and average speed of 272.91 miles per hour (439.21 kilometers per hour).

With its engine running, this Supermarine S.5 shows off its very clean lines.
Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S.

The Supermarine S.5 was designed by Reginald Mitchell, who would later design the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter. N220 was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane equipped with pontoons for landing and taking off on water. The airplane was of all metal construction, primarily duralumin (a hardened alloy of aluminum and copper). The airplane used surface radiators in the skin of the wings for engine cooling.

The S.5 had a length of 24 feet, 3½ inches (7.404 meters), wingspan of 26 feet, 9 inches (8.153 meters) and height of 11 feet, 1 inch (3.378 meters). The S.5’s empty weight was 2,680 pounds (1,216 kilograms) and gross weight was 3,242 pounds (1,471 kiograms).

Supermarine S.5 N220 at Venice, Italy, September 1927. (FlightGlobal)
Supermarine S.5 N220 at Venice, Italy, September 1927. (FlightGlobal)

Webster’s Supermarine S.5 was powered by a water-cooled, naturally-aspirated 1,461.135-cubic-inch-displacement (23.943 liter) D. Napier and Son, Ltd., Lion Mk.VIIB, serial number 63106, a double-overhead camshaft (DOHC) twelve-cylinder engine with three banks of four cylinders. This was called a “Triple-Four,” “W-12,” or “broad arrow” configuration. The Napier Lion had an included angle of 60° between each cylinder bank.

D. Napier and Son, Ltd., Lion VII “broad arrow” 12-cylinder aircraft engine.

The Mk.VIIB had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 10:1. It produced 875 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. The Lion VIIB drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a gear reduction unit with a ratio of 0.765:1. (Worsley’s Supermarine S.5, N219, was equipped with a 900 horsepower direct-drive Mk.VIIA.) The engine used a mixture of 75% gasoline, 25% benzol, and 0.22% “T.E.L. dope” (tetraethyl lead) additive. The Napier Lion Mk.VII was 5 feet, 6¼ inches (1.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 2½ inches (0.978 meters) wide and 2 feet, 10½ inches (0.876 meters) high. The geared Mk.VIIB was heavier than the direct drive Mk.VIIA, and weighed 920 pounds (417 kilograms).

The Supermarine S.5 had a maximum speed of 319.57 miles per hour (514.3 kilometers per hour).

“Webbie” Webster had been awarded the Air Force Cross on 2 January 1922. He received a second award, signified by a “bar” added the the ribbon of his medal, 11 October 1927:

Air Ministry.

11th October, 1927.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of a Bar to the Air Force Cross held by Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, A.F.C., in recognition of his achievement winning the recent “Schneider Cup” Air Race.

Flight Lieutenant Sidney N. Webster, RAF, stands with his winning Supermarine S.5, N220, at the Woolston factory. Designer Reginald Mitchel is in the front row at center.
Flight Lieutenant Sidney N. Webster, RAF, stands with his winning Supermarine S.5, N220, at the Woolston factory. Designer Reginald Mitchell is in the front row at center.

In January 1946, Air Commodore Webster was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He was promoted to Air Vice Marshal in 1949 and retired from the Royal Air Force 12 August 1950.

Air Vice Marshal Sidney Norman Webster, CBE, AFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, died 5 April 1984 at the age of 83 years.

Schneider trophy at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia)
Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (the Schneider Cup) at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11070

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 September 1929

Flying Officer Wagforth boards his Supermarine S.6, N247, race number 2
Flying Officer H.R.D. Wagforth boards his Supermarine S.6, N247, race number 2. The Rolls-Royce Type R engine is “ticking over” at 475 r.p.m. (Unattributed)

7 September 1929: Flying Officer Henry Richard Danvers Waghorn, a pilot with the  Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight based at RAF Calshot, flew a Supermarine S.6, N247, to win the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (Schneider Cup) race.

The race was the eleventh in a series of annual or semiannual races which were first held in 1913, specifically for seaplanes. Teams from several nations, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States, competed with float-equipped airplanes built specifically for the races. The national team which won three consecutive races would win the series and take home the Trophy.

The 1929 race was held over The Solent, a body of water between the harbor city of Portsmouth, England, and the Isle of Wight. The course was a four-sided polygon of 50 kilometers (31.07 statute miles). Competitors would make seven circuits of the course, with all left-hand turns, for a total distance of 350 kilometers (217.48 statute miles).

 1929 Schneider Trophy race course, from Flight, 22 August 1928 at Page 895
1929 Schneider Trophy race course, from “Flight,” 22 August 1928 at Page 895

By 1929, the expense of fielding these teams of technologically-advanced airplanes had caused both France and the United States to drop out. Italy entered three Macchi seaplanes and England entered two Supermarine S.6s and a Gloster VI. The Gloster was powered by the very successful Napier Lion “broad arrow” 12-cylinder engine, while the S.6 was equipped with the new Rolls-Royce Type R V-12. The second Supermarine S.6, flown by Flying Officer Richard L.R. Atcherley, was disqualified for crossing inside a pylon at a turn during the race. Italy’s team had one Aeronautica Macchi M.52, which had flown in the 1927 race, powered by a Fiat Aviazone AS.3 V-12, and two new Aeronautica Macchi M.67s, both of which were equipped with the Isotta Fraschini Asso 1000, a “W-18” 18-cylinder broad arrow engine. Great Britain’s racers were painted blue and silver. The Italian aircraft were painted bright red.

All pilots were military officers of the Regia Aeronautica and the Royal Air Force.

The race was actually a time trial. Beginning at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, individual aircraft would start at 20-minute intervals. There would be only two aircraft on the course at any time. Flying Officer Waghorn was the first to takeoff.

Supermarine S.6 N247. (Unattributed)
Supermarine S.6 N247. (Unattributed)

FLIGHT reported:

     Precisely at 2 p.m. the boom of the starting gun on the Medea was heard faintly, and exactly two minutes later Waghorn in the Supermarine Rolls-Royce S.6 (No.2) crossed the starting line. Obviously Waghorn had wasted no time in getting into the air. He roared past at tremendous speed, but certainly the impression was not one of some 360 m.p.h., which is what the S.6 must actually have been doing at the time. And the Rolls-Royce racing engine managed to give off its 1,800 or so h.p. with surprisingly little fuss. The large gear ratio resulted in the propeller running relatively slowly and actually from certain points of view, one could see the propeller blades, and not merely a shining shimmering blur marking the disc.

     Flying at a constant height of some 200 ft., Waghorn continued on his first lap, and as he sped past along the Hampshire shore the excitement grew intense. What would the speed of the first lap be? That was the question every one was asking. That first lap would give a fair indication of the sort of speeds that could be expected in the contest. After a splendid turn around the West Cowes mark boat, the S.6 once more became, as it was seen by spectators on Ryde pier, a group of three dots approaching and growing larger at a promising rate. The machine roared across the line and disappeared towards the Seaview and Hayling Island mark boats. After a wait of a few minutes, Waghorn’s speed for the first lap was announced: 324 m.p.h. In other words, he not only established a world’s record for the 50-km. closed circuit, but had beaten the speed of de Bernardi over the 3-km. straight-line course! Well done. Oh, very well done! The next question was: “Would the Rolls-Royce engine stay the course?” Watching Waghorn speed around at the same height, lap after lap, the tension eased off. The lap speeds grew at a steady rate, from 324 to 329 and to 331!  . . . Then in the fourth lap the speed dropped slightly to 328. Was this a sign that the engine was “tiring”?

. . . Waghorn’s lap speeds were steady around 330 m.p.h., the sixth dropping to 327, but rising again in the seventh to 331.  As the S.6 crossed the finishing line the spectators drew a sigh of relief. The Rolls-Royce engine had “stood the racket” for 40 minutes and thus upheld the reputation of an old and famous firm. The average speed for the whole course was 328.63 m.p.h. . . .

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer  and Airships, Special Schneider Trophy Report,  13 September 1929, at Pages 1008–1009

Photograph of 1929 Schneider Trophy Race scoreboard, in "Flight," 13 September 1929 at Page 1015
Photograph of 1929 Schneider Trophy Race scoreboard, in “Flight,” 13 September 1929 at Page 1015

Flying Officer Waghorn’s cumulative lap times were recorded as follows:

Lap 1    5 minutes, 45-1/5 seconds     324 miles per hour (521 km/h)

Lap 2    11 minutes, 25 seconds           329.54 miles per hour (530.34 km/h)

Lap 3    17 minutes, 02-4/5 seconds   331.1 miles per hour (532.9 km/h)

Lap 4    22 minutes, 43-4/5 seconds   328 miles per hour (528 km/h)

Lap 5    28 minutes, 22-4/5 seconds   329.93 miles per hour (530.97 km/h)

Lap 6    34 minutes, 04-4/5 seconds   327.04 miles per hour (526.32 km/h)

Lap 7    39 minutes, 42-4/5 seconds   330.91 miles per hour (532.55 km/h)

Dick Waghorn finished the course in 39:42.8, with an overall average speed of 325.63 miles per hour (528.88 kilometers per hour). He established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 100 kilometer Course, with an average speed over two consecutive race laps of 531.20 kilometers per hour (330.07 miles per hour).¹

Pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup Race team, left to right: Flying Officer H.R.D. Waghorn, race winner; Flying Officer T.H. Moon, Technical Officer; Flight Lieutenant D. D'Arcy A. Grieg; Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., Flight Commander; Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth; Flying Officer Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley.' Several of these officers would rise to the rank of Air Vice Marshal.(Royal Air Force)
Pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup Race team, left to right: Flying Officer H.R.D. Waghorn, the race winner; Flying Officer T.H. Moon, Technical Officer; Flight Lieutenant David D’Arcy Alexander Grieg, D.F.C.; Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., Flight Commander; Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth; Flying Officer Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley. Several of these officers would rise to the rank of Air Commodore, Air Vice Marshal and Air Marshal. (Royal Air Force)

Five days later, 12 September 1929, the High-Speed Flight commander, Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., flew N247 to an FAI World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 575.20 kilometers per hour (357.41 miles per hour).²

The pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup team were members of the RAF High-Speed Flight, based at RAF Calshot. With the exception of Squadron Leader Orlebar, all the pilots had been instructors at the Central Flying School at RAF Wittering. They trained on float planes after transfer to the High-Speed Flight when it was initially established at RAF Felixstowe, later moving to Calshot.

     Flying Officer H. R. D. Waghorn is a London man, having been born in Kensington in 1904. Educated at Wellington, he proceeded in 1922 as a cadet to the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, where he was a contemporary of Flying Officer Atcherly.

     On graduating in 1924 he was posted to No. 17 (Fighter) Squadron, and after taking a flying instructor’s course in 1926 at the Central Flying School became an instructor there. He remained at the school until February of this year when he joined the High-Speed Flight. He is a noted skier.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer  and Airships, No. 1077 (No. 33. Vol. XXI.) 15 August 1929, at Page 875, Column 2

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 16.27.45

Air Ministry,

20th September 1929

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Air Force Cross to Flying Officer Henry Richard Danvers Waghorn in recognition of his achievement in winning the recent “Schneider Trophy” Air Race.

The London Gazette, Number 33536, Friday, 20 September 1929, at Page 6035, Column 2

Flight Lieutenant Henry Wichard Danvers Waghorn, AFC, Royal Air Force, died of injuries, 7 May 1931.

Supermarine S.6 N247 (John K. Shelton Collection)
Supermarine S.6 N247 (John K. Shelton Collection)

N247 was a Supermarine S.6, designed by the 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 and S.5 Schneider Cup racers, and built at the Supermarine Aviation Works, Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two, with the second S.6 carrying the identification N248.

The Supermarine S.6 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 25 feet, 10 inches (7.874 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The S.6 had an  empty weight of 4,471 pounds (2,028 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,771 pounds (2,618 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 R and Supermarine S.6 (John K. Shelton Collection)
A Rolls-Royce Type R engine and the Supermarine S.6. The airplane’s designer, R.J. Mitchell, is near the center of the photograph. (John K. Shelton Collection)

While the previous design, the Supermarine S.5, used the very successful Napier Lion W-12 engine, the S.6 used a newly-designed Rolls-Royce Type R. This was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.33-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liters) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6:1. The the supercharger could provide up to 18 pounds (p.s.i.), 1.24 bar, of boost. N247’s race engine, number R9, produced 1,900 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. (For the 1931, race, R9 was modified to produce 2,350 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m.) The V-12 drove a two-bladed duralumin Fairey-Reid fixed-pitch airscrew through a 0.605:1 gear reduction unit at the front of the engine. It weighed 1,530 pounds (694 kilograms).

The engine burned an exotic fuel mixture of 11% aviation gasoline and 89% benzol (benzene and toluene). Tetraethyl lead was added to the mixture to limit pre-ignition. The float plane’s fuel supply was carried in the pontoons. Because of the engine’s high rate of consumption and the limited fuel capacity, the S.6 was unable to run at full power during the Schneider race.

Supermarine S.6 N247 was destroyed on takeoff, 18 August 1931. The pilot, Lieutenant Gerald L. Brinton, Royal Navy, assigned to the RAF High-Speed Flight, was killed.

Supermarine S.6 N247 at RAF Calshot 12 August 1929. (Unattributed)
Supermarine S.6 N247 at RAF Calshot 12 August 1929. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14999

² FAI Record File Number 11830

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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