Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America’s aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.
12 April 1963: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserve, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record when she flew a two-place Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter named Free World Defender, FAA registration N104L, named Free World Defender, over a 15/25 kilometer (9.32/15.53 miles) closed circuit at an average speed of 2,048.88 kilometers per hour (1,273.115 miles per hour).¹
Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 15/25 kilometer straight course in her autobiography:
“Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.”
—Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.
N104L was retained by Lockheed for use as a customer demonstrator to various foreign governments. In 1965 Lockheed sold N104L to the Dutch Air Force, where it served as D-5702 until 1980. It next went to the Turkish Air Force, remaining in service until it was retired in 1989.
9 April 1951: Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record and National Aeronautic Association U.S. National Record on 9 April 1951, flying her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, to an average speed of 464.374 miles per hour (747.338 kilometers per hour) over a straight 16 kilometer (9.942 miles) high-altitude course at Indio, California.¹
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, 19 December 1949. It was painted cobalt blue with gold lettering and trim.
That same day, Jackie Cochran flew her new airplane 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).²
Thunderbird had also won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race from Rosamond Dry Lake, California, to Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio, with pilot Joe De Bona in the cockpit.
According to Civil Aviation Administration records, N5528N had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no USAAC serial number or North American Aviation serial number. The CAA designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.
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 air-cooled 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.
8 April 1931: Amelia Earhart, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, reached an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet) over Warrington, Pennsylvania. The duration of the flight, her second of the day, was 1 hour, 49 minutes. She landed at 6:04 p.m.
A sealed barograph was carried aboard to record the altitude for an official record. Following the flight, the barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification.
An autogyro is a rotary wing aircraft that derives lift from a turning rotor system which is driven by air flow (autorotation). Unlike a helicopter, thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller. The engine does not drive the rotor.
The Pitcairn Autogyro Company’s PCA-2 was the first autogyro certified in the United States. Operated by a single pilot, it could carry two passengers. The fuselage was constructed as were airplanes of the period.
The PCA-2 was 23 feet, 1 inch (7.036 meters) long. A single low wing, which provided some of the aircraft’s lift, had a span of 30 feet (9.144 meters). The four-bladed rotor had a diameter of 45 feet (13.716 meters). The PCA-2 had an empty weight of 2,233 pounds (1,013 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).
The aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.93 liter) Wright R-975E Whirlwind 330 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The R-975E produced a maximum 330 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 73-octane gasoline. The engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propeller through direct drive. The engine weighed 635 pounds (288 kilograms).
The PCA-2 had a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). It had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a range of 290 miles (467 kilometers).
6 April 1940: Flying her Seversky AP-7A, NX1384, Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and National Aeronautic Association speed record over a 2,000 kilometer (1,242.742 miles) course from Mount Wilson, California (northeast of Los Angeles) to Mesa Giganta, New Mexico (west of Albuquerque) with an average speed of 533.845 kilometers per hour (331.716 miles per hour).¹
The Seversky AP-7 was an improved civil version of the Seversky P-35 fighter, which was the first U.S. Army Air Corps single engine airplane to feature all-metal construction, an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. It was designed by Major Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky, a World War I Russian fighter ace.
Cochran’s AP-7A was a specially-built racer, modified from the original AP-7 with a new, thinner, wing and different landing gear arrangement. It was powered by a 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.97 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1B3-G (R-1830-11) two-row 14-cylinder radial engine, with a Takeoff Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Normal Power rating of 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m and 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). It turned a three-bladed Hamilton-Standard controllable-pitch propeller through a 3:2 gear reduction. The engine had a dry weight of 1,320 pounds (595 kilograms)
This is the same airplane in which Jackie Cochran won the 1938 Bendix Trophy Race.
1 April 1921: Adrienne Bolland (née Boland), a pilot employed by René Caudron to demonstrate his airplanes in South America, flew a Caudron G.3 from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, across the Andes Mountain Range. The flight took 4 hours, 17 minutes.
Bolland was awarded a gold medal by the Argentine League of Patriots at Buenos Aires.
Mdlle. Bolland Crosses the Andes
From a Daily Mail report Mdlle. Bolland, the French aviatress, on April 1, left Mendoza, Argentina, at 7.30, and flew over the Andes Mountains, arriving at Santiago in Chile, just three hours later.
This the second time Mdlle. Bolland has flown over the Andes.
The distance Mdlle. Bolland covered was about 112 miles. There are heights of more than 20,000 ft. in the neighborhood of the point at which she crossed the range.
We are just wondering whether the journey was anon-stop” one, with strong headwinds, or whether a halt was made en route, and if the latter, where.
—FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 641 (No. 14, Vol. XIII.), 7 April 1921, at Page 250, Column 2
Adrienne Boland was born at Arcueil, a suburb of Paris, France, 25 November 1895. She was the youngest of six children of writer Henri Boland. At the age of 24, she decided to learn to fly and enrolled in flight training at Société des Avions Caudron (the Caudron Airplane Company), Le Crotoy. After two months, she had earned her flying license. An error on the certificate spelled her surname with two “l”s, and she retained the name “Bolland” for the rest of her life.
Mlle Bolland was employed by René Caudron to transport airplanes to and from the factory. She told Caudron that she wanted her own airplane. He told her that if she could perform a loop in a Caudron G.3, a pre-World War I scout plane, that she could fly it for the company. She did, and was then asked to fly it across the English Channel, which she did, 25 August 1920.
Caudron sent her to Argentina to demonstrate his airplanes. Once there, she planned to fly across the Cordillera de los Andes (the Andes Mountain Range) to Chile. The mountains were higher than the airplane was capable of flying, so she had to fly through valleys to find a way across. Departing Mendoza, Argentina at 6:00 a.m, she headed across the 400-kilometer (250 miles) wide mountain range. Most of the flight was at an altitude of 4,500 meters ( 14,764 feet) and it was extremely cold. Without maps, she succeeded: “Suddenly I saw a break in the mountains. . . and in the distance, the plain of Chile. I was saved.”
In 1924, France named Adrienne Bolland a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur for her accomplishment.
Adrienne Bolland crossed the Andes in a Caudron G.3, c/n 4902, registered F-ABEW. The Caudron G.3 was a World War I reconnaissance airplane and flight trainer manufactured by Société des Avions Caudron. It is called a sesquiplane because the lower wing is significantly shorter than the upper. It was a single-engine aircraft that was built in single- and two-place variants. The engine and cockpit are contained in a very short fuselage, supporting the wings and landing gear. Tail control surfaces are mounted on an open framework tail boom.
The Caudron G.3 was 6.40 meters (21 feet) long with an upper wingspan of 13.40 meters (44 feet). The height of the aircraft was 2.50 meters (11 feet, 2 inches). The airplane had an empty weight of 420 kilograms (926 pounds) and maximum weight of 710 kilograms (1,565 pounds).
The G.3 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 10.910 liter (665.791 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was rated at 70 cheval vapeur (1 ch = 0.99 horsepower) at 1,100 r.p.m., and 80 cheval vapeur at 1,200 r.p.m., but able to produce a maximum 92 cheval vapeur (90.77 horsepower) at 1,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The 9C was 0.810 meters (2 feet, 7.9 inches) long, 0.930 meters (3 feet, 6.1 inches) in diameter and weighed 119 kilograms (262 pounds).
The Caudron G.3 had a maximum speed of 106 kilometers per hour (66 miles per hour) and service ceiling of 4,300 meters (14,108 feet).