Colonel Roscoe Turner says there is only one reason for flying. Speed, speed, speed. And he’s right. Aircraft speeds are the mileposts of aviation progress. For this reason the world speed record over the three kilometer (1.8 miles) course is the diadem of diadems in aviation. Competition for it is dog-eat-dog and deadly serious, as I learned October, 1953, when I flew the Navy’s XF4D Skyray jet fighter in an attempt to win back the crown from Great Britain.
It promised to be a fight! Royal Air Force Squadron Commander Neville Duke held up Britain’s challenge by smashing the record previously held by the U. S. Air Force in September, 1953. Not content with this, Great Britain had another, even faster airplane sunning on the Libyan desert for a second shot at this same record. A more subtle opponent was the cool autumn weather that crept over California’s Mojave Desert where we hoped to make our speed run. Flying in the sonic range, where aircraft ground speeds vary with temperature, we needed 100-degree temperature to reach our fastest speed at sea level. A nip-and-tuck battle against time and weather was in the works.