July 16, 1957 – Major John Glenn Sets Transcontinental Air Speed Record

John Glenn Project Bullet

John Glenn at the cockpit of his Vought F8U Crusader

On July 16, 1957, Marine Corps Major John Glenn flew coast-to-coast in 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 8.4 seconds to set a new transcontinental air speed record.  His flight, dubbed Project Bullet by Glenn because his Vought F8U Crusader would fly faster than a .45-caliber pistol round, originated at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in Orange County, California and touched down at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.

Glenn’s mission objective was to prove that the Crusader’s Pratt & Whitney J-57 engine could tolerate extended flight times at combat power, or full afterburner, without damage.  The success of the flight led to removal by Pratt & Whitney of all power limitation on J-57s.  The particular Crusader model Glenn flew was a photo-reconnaissance F8U-1P equipped with a camera but no search radar.  Glenn filmed his entire trip while refueling in mid-air three times using direction finders to home in on the AJ Savage tankers’ beacons.

The air inversion layers in the western United States prevented the excited public from hearing the sonic boom of Glenn’s passing, but in the eastern states the layers disappeared and his expectant mother and her neighbors heard the aural explosion right on schedule.

Glenn’s record-setting average flight speed, including slowdowns for refueling, was set at 725.55 mph, or Mach 1.1.  His achievement put the Major on the radar for a soon-to-be-selected astronaut team for NASA.  He went on to pilot the first manned orbital spaceflight of the Earth in Friendship 7 in February of 1962.

Image Credit: Rob Getz/www.stellar-views.com

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