"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

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July 16, 1957 – John Glenn's Transcontinental, Supersonic Flight

Posted July 16, 2008 4:20 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, John Glenn flew an F8U-1 Crusader from California to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds, thus setting a new speed record for transcontinental flight. Glenn, a Marine Corps fighter pilot who later became the first American to orbit the Earth, also took the first continuous, transcontinental photograph of the United States as part of Project Bullet. Although John Glenn's mission is sometimes billed as "the first supersonic, transcontinental flight", his F8U-1 Crusader did not travel at supersonic speeds the entire way. Rather, Glenn made the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speeds.

Chance-Vought and Pratt and Whitney

The F8U-1 Crusader that Glenn piloted was a single-engine, carrier-based aircraft with a top speed of Mach 1.2 at 30,000 ft. and a climb rate of 25,000 ft./min. Built by Chance-Vought of Dallas, Texas, Glenn's F8U-1 came equipped with a Pratt and Whitney J57-P4A engine that could produce 10,900 pounds of static thrust at sea level and 16,600 pounds in afterburner. To comply with the U.S. Navy's 1955 requirement that all carrier-based aircraft be capable of in-flight refueling, the F8U-1 featured a refueling probe on the starboard side of the fuselage, aft of the cockpit. During three in-flight replenishments, Glenn's speed dropped to approximately 350 mph.

The Ensign Eliminator

The most notable aspect of the F8U-1 Crusader's design was a variable-incidence wing which corrected landing problems with Chance-Vought's F7U Cutlass, an earlier carrier-based aircraft that critics dubbed the "Ensign Eliminator". To meet the requirements of carrier-deck operations, the Crusader's wing could pivot seven degrees to permit a higher angle of attack, thus reducing the approach and take-off speed. This feature also kept the fuselage level, protected the pilot's forward field-of-view, and eliminated the need for the lengthy nose gear of the F7U. Jacked-up by a hydraulic actuator and backed-up by a pneumatic mechanism, the Crusader's wing-raising system hinged on the rear spar and locked into place with a pilot-controlled handle.

Johnny Dropped a Bomb!

On July 16, 1956, Major John Glenn of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) departed the Naval Air Station (NAS) at Los Alamitos, California for a historic flight to Floyd Bennett Field, New York. His flying partner, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Demmler, was forced to abandon the transcontinental speed run after his own F8U-1 Crusader was damaged during in-flight refueling. While en route to New York, Major Glenn is said to have flown over his hometown of Cambridge, Ohio. According to one account, a child ran to Glenn's parents' house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb!" as a sonic boom rocked the city.








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