Category Archives: 1940s

6 April 1940

Jackie Cochran with her Seversky AP-7A, NX1384, prior to her speed record flight, 6 April 1940. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

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

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

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.

Jackie Cochran paints her race number, 13, of the fuselage of her Seversky AP-7. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

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.

Jackie Cochran’s Seversky AP-7A, NX1384, at the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 1940. (Bill Larkins/Wikipedia)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12025.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a PT-19A. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born in Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louis Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville. Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day.  She had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu.

Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. She was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,496 pounds (2,039 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-21, R-985-25, or R-985-27, nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. The –21, –25 and –27 engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 February 1943

Graduation Ceremony at Bowman Field, 18 February 1943. (Courier-Journal)

18 February 1943: The first class of 39 flight nurses graduated from the U.S. Army Air Force School of Air Evacuations at Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky.

Lieutenant Geraldine Faye Dishroon, Army Nurse Corps

Second Lieutenant Geraldine Faye Dishroon, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the honor graduate, received the first wings presented to a flight nurse. Major General David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon, U.S. Army Air Forces, removed his own flight surgeon wings and pinned them on Lieutenant Dishroon as a sign of respect. She had competed the four-week course with an overall score of 96.5. In 1944, Lieutenant Dishroon served on the first air evacuation team to land on Omaha Beach after the D-Day invasion.

All members of the class were already Registered Nurses, many coming from the Army Nurse Corps, while others came directly from civilian practice.

A second class of 45 nurses began the following week.

More than 500 U.S. Army Air Force flight nurses served with 31 medical air evacuation squadrons during World War II. Seventeen of them died during the war.

Bowman Field opened in 1921. It is the oldest continually operating airport in North America.

Flight Nurses training to evacuate patients aboard a mock-up of C-47 transport at Bowman Field, Kentucky. (U.S. Air Force)

The Flight Nurse’s Creed

I will summon every resource to prevent the triumph of death over life.

I will stand guard over the medicines and equipment entrusted to my care and ensure their proper use.

I will be untiring in the performances of my duties and I will remember that, upon my disposition and spirit, will in large measure depend the morale of my patients.

I will be faithful to my training and to the wisdom handed down to me by those who have gone before me.

I have taken a nurse’s oath, reverent in man’s mind because of the spirit and work of its creator, Florence Nightingale. She, I remember, was called the “Lady with the Lamp.”

It is now my privilege to lift this lamp of hope and faith and courage in my profession to heights not known by her in her time. Together with the help of flight surgeons and surgical technicians, I can set the very skies ablaze with life and promise for the sick, injured, and wounded who are my sacred charges.

. . . This I will do. I will not falter in war or in peace.

A Flight Nurse, Lieutenant Katye Swope, 802d Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, checks the name of a patient aboard a transport enroute from Sicily to North Africa, 25 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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29 December 1949: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, serial number 43-6822, civil registration N5528N. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her Cobalt Blue North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, 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, 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 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, it 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. 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).

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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17 December 1947: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting P-51B Mustang, NX23888. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting P-51B Mustang, NX23888. (Unattributed)

17 December 1947: At Thermal, California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American P-51B Mustang to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. Her average speed, after two passes over the course in each direction, was 663.054 kilometers per hour (412.002 miles per hour).

Cochran’s altitude over the record course was at Sea Level.

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

The airport at Thermal is 115 feet (35 meters) below Sea Level. During December, the daily high temperature averages 71.0 ˚F. (21.7 ˚C.). The airport was established as Thermal Army Airfield during World War II, but today is the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM).

A week earlier, 10 December 1947, Cochran set another record World Record, flying NX28388 over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). (FAI Record File Number 4478).

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)

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

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 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 on teh flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, September 1948. (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, September 1948. (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.

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.)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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