5 September 1960: Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Miller, United States Marine Corps, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 500 Kilometer Closed Course Without Payload with a McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu.No. 145311. The fighter averaged 1,216.78 miles per hour (1,958.2 kilometers per hour)¹ over the triangular course in the California and Nevada desert.
Lieutenant Colonel Miller took off from Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. The McDonnell F4H-1F carried three external fuel tanks. Miller climbed in full Military Power to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters), then dropped the two wing tanks over the Salton Sea. The Phantom II continued to accelerate with both engines in afterburner while climbing to 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). At Mach 1.6, 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) from the starting gate over Edwards, Miller dropped the empty 600 gallon (2,271 liters) centerline tank. He crossed the gate at 42,200 feet (12,863 meters) at Mach 1.76 and continued to accelerate.
Miller entered the first turn near Lone Pine, California (just east of Mount Whitney) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at Mach 2.04. The second turn was over Beatty, Nevada, the location of a radar and telemetry facility that was operated as part of the NASA High Speed Flight Station’s High Range. The F4H had descended slightly to 49,000 feet (14,935 meters) while accelerating to Mach 2.05.
Colonel Miller was now headed back toward Edwards and the gate on the longest leg of the triangular course. He crossed the finish line at 46,000 feet (14,021 meters) and Mach 2.10.
The total time on the course, gate to gate, was 15 minutes, 19.2 seconds. The Phantoms’ two engines were in afterburner for 25 minutes, 30 seconds. The duration of the flight, from takeoff to landing, was one hour.
When the airplane crossed the gate over Edwards, only 900 pounds (408 kilograms) of fuel remained. Later, Colonel Miller said, “The only way to get on the ground with the engines running was a split-S maneuver with a near-vertical dive, speed brakes out and engines at idle power. This provided positioning for a straight-in approach to the runway at Edwards AFB. Flaps and wheels were lowered at the last minute when I knew I had the runway made, even if the engines quit. Fortunately, they didn’t flame out until I touched down.”
While the FAI credited Tom Miller with a World Record speed of 1,958.2 kilometers per hour (1,216.769 miles per hour) for the 500 kilometer course, a McDonnell Aircraft Corporation publication points out that as the F4H actually flew outside the course lines to make the high-speed turns, it flew 23 miles (37 kilometers) farther than required, and therefore the actual average speed was 1,305 miles per hour (2,100.2 kilometers per hour).
Lieutenant General Thomas H. Mitchell flew combat missions in the Pacific with VMO-155, flying the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, and missions during the Korean War with VMFA-323 (Death Rattlers”), flying the Vought F4U-4 Corsair. During the Vietnam War, he commanded VMFA-513, flying the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II. Promoted to Brigadier General, he was Chief of Staff, III Amphibious Group, then Commander, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. In 1975, he took command of the Fleet Marine Force Pacific. After serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, Headquarters, Marine Corps, Miller retired from active duty in 1979.
Lieutenant General Miller died in 2007 at the age of 84 years.
3 June 1964: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, Jackie Cochran set a third Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record with the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 62-12222. She flew over a 500 kilometer (310.686 miles) closed course, without payload, averaging 1,814.37 kilometers per hour (1,127.397 miles per hour). ¹ She broke her own record, set over the same course in 1953 with an Orenda-powered Canadair Sabre Mk.3. ²
Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson as a Mach 2 interceptor, the Starfighter was used as a fighter bomber by Germany. The F-104G was most-produced version of the Lockheed Starfighter. It had a strengthened fuselage and wings, with hardpoints for carrying bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.
The F-104G is a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).
The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).
The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers). The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
The Starfighter’s standard armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition, and up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles could be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles two wingtip fuel tanks and another two underwing tanks could be carried.
On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton and was designed for high-speed, low-altitude, laydown delivery.
Cochran set three speed records with this F-104 in May and June 1964.³ Under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Republic of China Air Force, where it was assigned number 4322. It crashed 17 July 1981. The pilot, Yan Shau-kuen, ejected.
6 May 1959: Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vinitsky (Всеволод Владимирович Виницкий), with Sergei P. Sanayev, flew a Kamov Ka-15 coaxial helicopter to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload. The helicopter’s average speed over the course was 170.45 kilometers per hour (105.92 miles per hour).¹
The Ka-15 was a single-engine, two-place, light helicopter, flown by a single pilot. The protototype first flew 14 April 1953, with Dmitry Konstantinovich Efremov, chief test pilot for the Kamov Design Bureau. The helicopter used two fully-articulated, three-bladed, counter-rotating coaxial rotors. The helicopter had two vertical fins mounted at the ends of a horizontal stabilizer, and four-wheeled fixed landing gear.
The fuselage of the Ka-15 was 6.26 meters (20 feet, 6.5 inches) long. The main rotors’ diameter was 9.96 meters (32 feet, 8.1 inches), and the overall height of the the helicopter was 3.35 meters (10 feet, 11.9 inches). The span of the horizontal stabilizer and vertical fins were 2.85 meters (9 feet, 4.2 inches). The Ka-15 had an empty weight of 996 kilograms (2,196 pounds), normal takeoff weight of 1,360 kilograms (2,998 pounds), and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 1,460 kilograms (3,219 pounds).
The rotors turn at 333 r.p.m. The upper rotor turned clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the left), and the lower blades turn counter-clockwise (their advancing blades are on the right). The area of the main rotor disc was 155.83 square meters (1,677.29 square feet) with a solidity ratio of 3% per rotor. (This is the lowest coefficient of disc area of any helicopter.) Each main rotor blade was trapezoidal, with a theoretical chord at the axis of rotation of 300 millimeters (11.8 inches), narrowing to 100 millimeters (3.9 inches) at the blade tip. The blades incorporated 12° of negative twist.
The Ka-15 was powered by a single air-cooled, supercharged 10.131 liter (618.234 cubic inches) Ivchenko AI-14V nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.9:1. The engine was rated at 188 kilowatts (252 horsepower). It weighed approximately 200 kilograms (441 pounds).
The helicopter could carry a single passenger or 364 kilograms (802 pounds) of cargo. (Interestingly, the contemporary single main rotor/tail rotor Mil Mi-1 helicopter required 575 horsepower to lift the same payload as the Ka-15.)
The Ka-15 had a cruise speed 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour) and maximum speed 155 kilometers per hour (96 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 3,500 meters (11,483 feet). It could hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at 600 meters (1,969 feet). The helicopter had a normal range of 278 kilometers (173 miles) and maximum range of 520 kilometers (323 miles).
The performance of the Ka-15 was better than had been predicted. After several years of testing, the Ka-15 entered production in 1956. It was the first mass-produced coaxial helicopter, with approximately 375 being built by Aircraft Factory No. 99 at Ulan-Ude, the capitol city of the Buryat-Mongolian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
In a coaxial rotor system, one rotor is placed above the other, with the drive shaft for the upper rotor inside the hollow drive shaft of the lower. As in tandem rotor helicopters, each counter-rotating rotor counteracts the torque effect of the other. There is no anti-torque rotor (tail rotor) required. In helicopters using a tail rotor, as much as 30% of engine power is required to drive the tail rotor. With counter-rotating rotors, all of the engine’s power can be used to provide lift and thrust.
A second benefit of a coaxial rotor is that the dissymetry of lift of each rotor is also canceled out. There is no translating tendency while in a hover, and higher forward speeds are possible because the effect of retreating blade stall is reduced. A helicopter with coaxial rotors is more compact than a similar helicopter with tandem rotors. This makes it useful for operations in confined areas or aboard ships.
Nikolai Ilich Kamov was previously known for his autogyro designs, which were first produced in 1929. These included the Tsentralniy Aerogidrodinamicheskiy Institut (Central Aero-Hydrodynamic Institute) TsAGI A-7, which was the first armed autogyro. The Kamov Design Bureau was established 7 October 1948 at Lyubertsy, near Moscow, Russia.
Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vinitsky was born 11 February 1915 at Omsk, Akmola, Imperial Russia. In 1932, he graduated from the Ural Geological Prospecting Technical School at Chelyabinsk, and in 1933 Sverdlovsk glider school. Vsevolod Vladimirovich attended the Polar Aviation Administration (Nikolaev) school of marine pilots, Glavsevmorputi, in 1939.
Vsevolod Vladimirovich entered the Red Army in 1941. He served with the 33rd Airborne Squadron (Western Front) during September and November of that year, followed by the 7th Airborne Squadron (WF); From March to Spetember 1942, he was a commander with the 7th Airborne Corps (WF). The then commanded the 2nd Airborne Regiment (Ukranian Front) until May 1944. He flew 44 combat sorties
In August 1945, Vsevolod Vladimirovich assumed command of the 51st Transport Aviation Regiment on the Transbaikal Front.
After the Great Patriotic War (World War II), Vinitsky was a pilot for Polar Aviation, then in 1950, he bacame a test pilot for Mil OKB. He made the first flights of the Mil Mi-1U and the Mi-4.
Flying a Mil Mi-1, he performed first engine-off touch-down autorotation in the Soviet Union. He perfected helicopter flight under icing and instrument meteorological conditions. He later became a test pilot at Gromov Flight Research Institute at Zhukovsky. With Dmitry Konstantinovich Efremov, Vsevolod Vladimirovich piloted the Kamov Ka-22 gyrodyne. In 1963 he worked for the TsAGI planetary station
Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vinitsky died at Moscow, 12 September 1992 at the age of 77 years. He was buried at the Kuzminsky Cemetery, Moscow.
4–9 February 1982: Sikorsky test pilots Nicholas D. Lappos, William Frederick Kramer, Byron Graham, Jr., David R. Wright, and Thomas F. Doyle, Jr., set a series of Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed, time-to-climb and sustained altitude world records while flying a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter, serial number 760178, FAA registration N5445J, at Palm Beach, Florida.
On 4 February, Nick Lappos, who had made the first flight with the prototype S-76 nearly five years earlier, set a record of 335,50 kilometers per hour (208.47 miles per hour) over a 3-kilometer course (FAI Record File Number 1261, Class E-1d), and 342,61 km/h (212.89 m,p,h.) over a straight 15/25 kilometer course (1262). Flying in the E-1e class for heavier helicopters, Billy Kramer ¹ flew both the 3 kilometer and 15/25 kilometer course at an average 340,48 km/h (211.56 m.p.h.) (1828, 1829).
On 5 February, Byron Graham, Jr.,² flew the S-76A to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 3 minutes, 11 seconds (1819); to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 8 minutes, 37.3 seconds (Class E-1d, 1821); and a sustained altitude of 7,940 meters (26,050 feet) in level flight (Class E-1D, 9947).
On 6 February, David R. Wright averaged 331,22 km/h (205.81 m.p.h.) over a 100 kilometer closed circuit without payload (Class E-1d, 1264), and 334,69 kilometers per hour (207.97 m.p.h.) over a closed circuit of 100 kilometers without payload (Class E-1e, 1265).
After taking a day off, the Sikorsky S-76A was back in the air on 8 February, this time with Thomas F. Doyle, Jr., flying the helicopter over the 500 kilometer closed circuit, without payload. The Sikorsky averaged 345,74 km/h (214.83 m.p.h.) (Class E-1, 1844, E-1e, 1845). This was also an Absolute World Speed Record for helicopters (Class E, 11660).
On the last day of the series, 9 February 1982, David R. Wright was back in the cockpit of N5445J. Flying the 1,000 kilometer closed circuit without payload, the S-76A averaged 305, 10 km/h (189.58 m.p.h.) (Class E-1e, 1827).
After 37 years, nine of these twelve Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records still stand.
N5445J was owned by Rodgers Helicopter Service, Kearney, Nebraska, and operated as an air ambulance by Good Samaritan AirCare until its U.S. registration was cancelled, 10 July 2006.
The record-setting helicopter eventually found its way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Owned and operated by Atlas Taxi Aereo, 760178 had been re-registered as PR-IME and was transporting Petrobras employees to offshore oil production platforms.
At approximately 8:30 a.m., 29 December 2008, PR-IME had departed Macaé Airport enroute Platform P-12 in the Campos Basin with 7 persons on board.
Shortly after takeoff, the flight crew observed an AC generator caution light and returned to the airport. Before landing, a fire warning light also illuminated. Upon landing on Runway 24, all seven escaped from the burning helicopter without injury. The fire was quickly extinguished, but the Sikorsky S-76A was substantially damaged.
The Sikorsky S-76A is a twin-engine intermediate class helicopter that can be configured to carry 6 to 12 passengers. It is used as an executive transport, a scheduled passenger airliner, utility transport, search and rescue aircraft and air ambulance. The helicopter is certified for instrument flight and has retractable tricycle landing gear.
The prototype was rolled out at Stratford, Connecticut on 11 January 1977 and the first flight took place on 13 March. It was certified in 1978 and the first production aircraft was delivered to Air Logistics, 27 February 1979.
The S-76A is 52 feet, 6 inches (16.00 meters) long with rotors turning. The fuselage has a length of 43 feet, 4.43 inches (13.219 meters) and a width of 8 feet (2.44 meters). The helicopter’s overall height is 14 feet, 5.8 inches (4.414 meters). The four bladed composite main rotor is 44 feet (13.41 meters) in diameter. The blades are attached to a one-piece forged aluminum hub and use elastomeric bearings. As is customary with American helicopters, the main rotor turns counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The four-bladed tail rotor has a diameter of 8 feet (2.438 meters) and turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) It is mounted in a pusher configuration on the left side of the tailboom. The tail rotor is constructed of composite airfoils mounted to graphite spars.
The S-76A was equipped with two Allison 250-C30 turboshaft engines rated at 557 shaft horsepower, each. Subsequent variants have been built with Turbomeca Arriel 1S and 2S engines, as well as Pratt & Whitney PT6B-3A and PW210S engines.
The S-76 has an empty weight of 7,007 pounds (3,178 kilograms). The S-76A maximum gross weight was 10,500 pounds (4,763 kilograms). Beginning with the S-67B, this was increased to 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms).
The Sikorsky S-76 has a maximum cruise speed of 155 knots (287 kilometers per hour). It can hover in ground effect (HIGE) at 7,050 feet (2,149 meters) or out of ground effect (HOGE) at 3,300 feet (1,006 meters). The service ceiling is 13,800 feet (4,206 meters).
The helicopter was designed with offshore oil support as a major consideration. It was intended to carry 2 pilots and 12 passengers 400 nautical miles (460 statute miles, or 741 kilometers). Maximum range with no reserve is 411 nautical miles (473 statute miles/762 kilometers).
Sikorsky built 307 S-76As. More than 850 of all variants have been built. The current production model is the S-76D.
¹ William F. Kramer was killed in the crash of a Sikorsky S-76B, N5AZ, near Sutton, Massachusetts, 6 June 1986. Also killed were another company test pilot, Ronald W. Kuhrt, son of Wesley A. Kuhrt, a former Sikorsky president; William F. Gilson; and Richard C. Elpel. The aircraft had been flying a group associated with King Hussein of Jordan. At the time, sabotage was considered a possibility. The NTSB investigation was unable to determine a probable cause.
² Byron Graham, Jr., a former U.S. Marine Corps officer, along with Lieutenant Colonel Robert P.Guay, performed as series of loops and rolls with a Sikorsky CH-53A Sea Stallion, 23 October 1968.
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
[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. It 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 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.)
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 limited 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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Autobiography, by 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.
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).
At the start of the Thompson race, Odom quickly took the lead. But on the second lap, things went wrong. As it approached Pylon 4, Beguine rolled upside down and then crashed into a house near the airport, setting it on fire.
Air racer Steven Calhoun Beville, flying P-51D Mustang # 77 in the Thompson Race, the closest pilot to Beguine, said that Odom had cut inside Pylon No. 3 and was correcting toward Pylon 4 when the airplane rolled inverted.
[Beville’s Mustang, The Galloping Ghost, NX79111, is the same airplane involved in the catastrophic crash at the National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada, 16 September 2011.]
Newspapers reported the crash:
Beville, who finished third in the race, was the closest to Odom when he got in trouble.
“Bill was out too far on the third pylon,” Beville said, “and was trying to correct position too quickly. He turned over in the air and flew along on his back for a short distance, then dived right into a house.”
—The San Bernardino Daily Sun, Vol. LVI, No. 5, Tuesday, 6 September 1949, at Page 2, Column 7
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.
“The house” was a brand new single-family home, located at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley C. Laird, had moved in just four days earlier, along with their 5-year-old son, David. Their 13-month-old, Craig, had remained with Mrs. Laird’s parents, but her father, Benjamin J. Hoffman, had brought him to the house in Berea two days earlier.
Jeanne Laird was inside the house when Beguine crashed. She was killed instantly. Mr. Laird, Mr. Hoffman and David were outside watching the airplanes fly overhead, and Craig was in a playpen in the driveway. When the house exploded in flames, Mr. Hoffman rescued Craig, suffering severe burns in doing so. The infant was critically burned, and though Mr. Hoffman drove him to Berea Community Hospital, Craig Hamilton Laird died several hours later.
Bill Odom’s body was so badly burned that it could only be identified by his wristwatch.
“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.
III. P-51C 2925, NX5528N, THUNDERBIRD, 1949–1953
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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 since new. 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.
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 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 inspection 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 commercial 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
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.
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.
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.