Tag Archives: World Record For Speed Over a Closed Circuit Of 500 Kilometers

29 December 1949

Jackie Cochran with her Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, Thunderbird, circa December 1949. (FAI)

29 December 1949: Jackie Cochran (Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve) flew her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Thunderbird, CAA registration N5528N, to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Class C-1 world speed records of 703.38 kilometers per hour (437.06 miles per hour)¹ and a U.S. National record of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour) over the 500 kilometer (310.7 mile) Desert Center–Mt. Wilson course in the Colorado Desert of southern California.

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

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased it from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart just ten days earlier, 19 December 1949.

According to Civil Aviation Administration records, the airplane had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no U.S. Army Air Corps serial number or North American Aviation manufacturer’s serial number. The C.A.A. designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.

Thunderbird had won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race with pilot Joe De Bona, after he had dropped out of the 1948 race. Its engine had been upgraded from a Packard V-1650-3 Merlin to a V-1650-7 for the 1949 race.

Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N with Joe De Bona’s race number, 90. (Unattributed).

Jackie Cochran set three world speed records with Thunderbird. In 1953, she sold it back to Jimmy Stewart. After changing ownership twice more, the P-51 crashed near Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, 22 June 1955.

The P-51B and P-51C Mustangs are virtually identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California, while 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.

According to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, “At the time of her death in 1980, Jacqueline Cochran held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history.”

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.)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4476 and 12323

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 October 1955

Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., United States Navy, with record-setting Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, at Edwards Air Force Base, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., United States Navy, with record-setting Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, at Edwards Air Force Base, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

15 October 1955: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Lieutenant Gordon L. (“Gordo”) Gray, Jr., United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record For Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers when he flew a pre-production Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk light attack bomber, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 137820, to an average speed of 1,118.7 kilometers per hour (695.128 miles per hour).¹

Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

The Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk is a single-place, single-engine, delta-winged light attack bomber designed for operation from aircraft carriers. It is 39 feet, 4 inches (11.989 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) and overall height of 15 feet (4.572 meters). Its empty weight is 8,400 pounds (3,810.2 kilograms). It was powered by a Curtiss-Wright J65-W-2, a licensed-production version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire axial flow turbojet engine, which had a 13-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons).

The A4D was in production from 1956 to 1979. 2,960 one- and two-place aircraft were built. The Skyhawk remained in service with the United States Navy until 2003.

Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., U.S. Navy (thrid from left) with the Douglas Aircraft Company A4D team at Edwards AFB, California, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., U.S. Navy (third from left) with the Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk team at Edwards AFB, California, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8859

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 September 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)

7 September 1961: As a consultant to Northrop Corporation, Jackie Cochran flew a T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers, flying from Edwards Air Force Base, California to Beatty, Nevada, Lone Pine, California, and back to Edwards. Her speed averaged 1,095.56 kilometers per hour (680.749 miles per hour).

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)

Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager kept notes during these record runs:

“September 7: Re-run 500 km. Good run. Observers miss her at Lone Pine, Calif.”

— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Page 305.

During August and September 1961, Cochran set series of speed, altitude and distance records with the T-38.

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).

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-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 September 1954

Major John L. Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, standing on the wing of his record-setting F-86H-1-NH  Sabre. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

3 September 1954: At the Dayton Air Show, being held for the first time at the James M. Cox Municipal Airport, Major John L. (“Jack”) Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, flew his North American Aviation F-86H-1-NH Sabre, 52-1998, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 1,045.206 kilometers per hour (649.461 miles per hour).¹

Similar to the F-86H-1-NA Sabre flown by Captain Armstrong, this is F-86H-10-NH 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)
Similar to the F-86H-1-NH Sabre flown by Captain Armstrong, this is F-86H-10-NH 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86H was a fighter-bomber variant of the famous Sabre Jet day fighter. It was equipped with a much more powerful General Electric J73-GE-3 turbojet engine. The engine was larger that the J47 used in previous F-86 models, and this required a much larger air intake and airframe modifications. The fuselage was 6 inches deeper and two feet longer than the F-86F. This accommodated the new engine and an increase in fuel load. The tail surfaces were changed with an increase in the height of the vertical fin and the elevators were changed to an “all-flying” horizontal stabilizer. The first F-86Hs built retained the six Browning AN-M3 .50 caliber machine guns of the F-86F, but this was quickly changed to four Pontiac M39 20 millimeter revolver cannon.

Another view of North American Aviation F-86-10-NH Sabre 53-1298. This fighter bomber i similar to the airplane flown by Colonel Armstrong to set a world speed record. (U.S. Air Force)
Another view of North American Aviation F-86-10-NH Sabre 53-1298. This fighter bomber is similar to the airplane flown by Major Armstrong to set a world speed record. (U.S. Air Force)

The North American Aviation F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).

The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. The J73 was 16 feet, 8 inches (5.08 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.5 inches (1.03 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).

The F-86H had a maximum speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With bombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 403 miles (649 kilometers) at 552 miles per hour (888 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,810 miles (2,913 kilometers).

F-86H Sabres (after the first ten production airplanes) were armed with four Pontiac M39 20 mm autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration, they could carry rockets and bombs or “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.” 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended.

The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954, but by 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.

North American Aviation F-86H Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)

John L. Armstrong was born in Orange County, California, 19 July 1922. He was the fourth child of Milton Williams Armstrong, an engineer, and Olive M. Meyer Armstrong. As a child, he was called “Jake.”

Major Armstrong had been a fighter pilot during World War II, flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, initially with the 554 Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group.

On 13 March 1944, Armstrong made a forced landing at North Killingholme when his fighter ran out of fuel.

2nd Lieutenant Armstrong was assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group based at RAF Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, England, 26 March 1944. He flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

Lt. John L. Armstrong, 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning,1944. (The 20th Fighter Group Project)

The 79th transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Armstrong was promoted to first lieutenant 26 June 1944. He was officially credited with having destroyed one enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 190. On 28 August 1944, while flying his 30th combat mission, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13791, Guardian Angel,  was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire while he was attacking a railway roundhouse at Bad Greuznach, Germany. Armstrong bailed out but was captured and held at Stalag Luft I at Barth, Western Pomerania. He was returned to U.S. military control in June 1945.

Major Armstrong had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

Two days after setting the speed record, Jack Armstrong was attempting to increase it. His Sabre broke up in flight and Major Armstrong was killed. His remains were buried at the Loma Vista Memorial Park, Fullerton, California, 11 September 1954.

This exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, ohio, commemorates Major Armstrong's record-setting flight. His flight helmet is included in the display. (U.S. Air Force)
This exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, commemorates Major Armstrong’s record-setting flight. His flight helmet is included in the display. Visible behind the display case is North American Aviation F-86H-10-NH Sabre 53-1352.  (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8860

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 May 1953

Jackie Cochran in cockpit of the Sabre Mk.3, with Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force
Jackie Cochran in cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3, with Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)

23 May 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jackie Cochran set another Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record with the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200. Flying over a 500-kilometer closed circuit without payload, the Orenda-powered Sabre averaged 952.032 kilometers per hour (591.565 miles per hour).¹

“The following week a morning opened up with conditions satisfactory, except for a fifteen-knot wind, and I went around the course five times for a 500-kilometer record of 590 miles per hour. The plane, without the  carrying of external tanks, had fuel for only seventeen minutes of full-power low-altitude flying, so for this longer run I had to carry the external tanks, which slowed the airplane down by about 40 miles per hour. Even so, I only had fuel for twenty-seven minutes of full-power flying, which was insufficient, so I had to make the runs pulling 94 per cent of full power rather than full power. I landed on the dry lake bed just as I did after the 100-kilometer run and again with two minutes of fuel remaining.”

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter XII, at Pages 230–231.

ackie Cochran’s FAI Diplome de Record at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s FAI Diplôme de Record at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)

During May and June 1953, Cochran, a consultant to Canadair, flew the Sabre Mk.3 to FAI records over the 15/25 kilometer straight course, the 100-kilometer closed circuit, the 500-kilometer closed circuit and to an altitude record of 14,377 meters (47,168.635 feet). She was the first woman to “break the Sound Barrier” when she flew No. 19200 to Mach 1.04.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.3 was a one-of-a-kind CL-13 Sabre (an F-86E Sabre manufactured by Canadair Ltd. under license from North American Aviation, Inc.) built to test the prototype Avro Canada Gas Turbine Division Orenda 3 engine. Modifications to the F-86 airframe were required to install the new, larger engine.

The Orenda 3 was an axial-flow turbojet engine with a 10-stage compressor, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (16.69 kilonewtons), a 15% improvement over the General Electric J47-GE-13 installed in the standard F-86E. The Orenda was 121.3 inches (3.081 meters) long, 42 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,650 pounds (1,202 kilograms).

Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer located at Cartierville, Montreal, Canada, owned by the American submarine builder, Electric Boat Company. Canadair also built licensed versions of the Douglas DC-4 (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) and the Lockheed T-33 two-place jet trainer. In 1954, the company became a part of General Dynamics.

After the speed records, No. 19200 was sent to North American Aviation for evaluation. Today, it is on static display outdoors at Wetaskiwin Regional General Airport (CEX3), Alberta, Canada.

Record-setting Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200 (Canadair Ltd.)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9075

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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