14–15 January 1935

Jimmy Doolittle in the cockpit of American Airlines’ Vultee V-1A NC13770, January 1935. (NASM-157196)

14–15 January 1935: James Harold Doolittle set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognised Course of 329.98 kilometers per hour (205.04 miles per hour).¹

Doolittle took off from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 5:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, 14 January (8:27 p.m., Eastern Standard Time). Also on board were Mrs. Doolittle and Robert Adamson (1871–1935), an executive with the Shell Oil Company.

The airplane was a Vultee V-1A Special, NC13770, owned by American Airlines and leased to Shell.

Doolittle crossed overhead Floyd Bennet Field at 8:26 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 15 January. He then landed at Newark Airport, New Jersey, at 8:34½ a.m. The flight from Burbank to Brooklyn had a duration of 11 hours, 59 minutes, and broke a record set two months earlier by Eddie Rickenbacker.

A Vultee V-1A at Grand Central Terminal, Glendale, California, late 1930s. (NASM-9A07903)

The Vultee V-1A was a large, all-metal, single-engine airliner of full monocoque construction with retractable landing gear. It could be flown by one or two pilots and carry up to eight passengers. The V-1A was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and Richard Palmer, based on an earlier design by Vultee and Vance Breese, who were working for the Airplane Development Corporation. The prototype made its first flight 19 February 1933 with test pilot Marshall E. Headle at the controls.

NC13770, serial number 24073, was the eighth V-1A built, and was one of the original ten ordered by American Airlines. The V-1A was 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, 0 inches (15.240 meters) and height of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters). The wings had root chord of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) and tip chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Total wing area was 384.0 square feet (35.675 square meters). There was 3° dihedral. The V-1A had an empty weight of 5,212 pounds (2,364 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,500 pounds (3,856 kilograms).

Vultee V-1A Special NR13770

The Vultee V-1A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129 cubic-inch displacement (29.785 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820-F2 ² (R-1820-20 or R-1820-102), a nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.4:1. This was a direct-drive engine with a Normal Power rating of 691 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., at Sea Level. It required 87-octane gasoline. The R-1820-F2 was 3 feet, 7-3/8 inches (1.102 meters) long, 4 feet, 5-3/4 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter, and weighed 937 pounds (425 kilograms).

The V-1A had a cruise speed of  215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 235 miles per hour (378 kilometers per hour). The airplane’s service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). In standard configuration, it had a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).

NC13770 was later sold to Harry Richman of Miami Beach, Florida, who christened the airplane Lady Peace. It registration was cancelled 8 October 1937. During the Spanish revolution, the airplane was captured by the Nationalists. It is believed to have been scrapped in the early 1950s.

Robert Adamson, Mrs. Doolittle and James H. Doolittle, ready to board the Vultee V-1A at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 14 January 1935. (Getty Images/Bettman)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13232

² Some sources identify the Vultee V-1A’s engine as the Wright SR-1820-F2 (R-1820-05, R-1820-37, and R-1820-84). These engine variants have the same compression ratio, dimensions and weights as the R-1820-F2. The Normal Power rating for the -05 is 840 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m.; the -37 is 690 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m.; and the rating for the -84 is 740 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m. Two contemporary aviation news magazines identified the engine as simply a “Wright Cyclone F2,” which is less than helpful, as there are at least 8 different “-F2” variants, designated as R-1820-F2, GR-1820-F2, SR-1820-F2 and SGR-1820-F2. Some of these have military versions; others do not. Normal Power ratings for these -F2 engines range from 664 to 840 horsepower, all at 1,950 r.p.m.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Source: This Day in Aviation