Air Speed Records

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air speed record breaking

When one thinks of World Air Speed records, the exploits of Chuck Jaeger and more recently Steve Fossett come to mind. However, it can be surprisingly easy to land up with a world air speed record on your wall.
Air Speed Records are administered by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale; FAI for short. The possibilities for the everyday pilot are almost endless.

There are records for just about everything! Altitude, distance, speed over a measured distance and while flying everything from the latest scram jet to pedal power. Aircraft are also classified by their weight.

Every country has an association that acts on behalf of the FAI. In the UK, it is the Royal Aero Club while in the USA it is the National Aeronautic Association (Contest & Records department).

Before undertaking your record attempt, it is essential that you contact your national body who will tell you whether your project will be accepted as a speed record. Needless to say, they will extract some money from you, and you will have to apply for a FAI competition license (more money). You will have to fill in some paperwork, and forms will have to be downloaded that must be filled in by the official timekeepers at the start and finish of your attempt. Air traffic controllers are usually accepted by the FAI as timekeepers.

getting the record

The most simple record to obtain is one that specifies a flight from one place to another. The flights have to be more than a certain distance, which is reduced if between two countries. There are all kinds of classes, depending upon weight.

So you live in Longmont Colo. USA and you fly a Vans RV3. Your maximum takeoff weight is less than 1000Kg so you will be in class C1B (landplane piston). So you figure that you might try for the record from Longmont airfield to Sheridan Wyoming. On checking on the FAI site you see that someone already holds that record with a Lancair 360 so it is very unlikely that you are going to beat it. So you try Lima (Colo). No one ever wants to go there by choice so not surprisingly you find that no one has got that record. The NAA agrees to the record attempt so you now wait for the right weather. If the wind is in your favour, that is a great advantage, so what you are really after is one hell of a North Westerly to help blow you along.

Having cleared with Longmont and Lima control towers that they are happy to be your timekeepers, you are all set for your attempt.

Below is an amusing article by a disabled Glasair pilot who took the absolute piston record from Lands End to John o'Groats (UK) in 2005.

Blame it on the Bear!
John de Frayssinet


the route taken

Flying a light plane to the North of Scotland on the face of it does not seem to be a huge challenge. Organising a sponsored world air speed record to raise money for disabled flying is another matter entirely: hours of work on the telephone to persuade sponsors to support the effort, paperwork to get the record challenge accepted by the Royal Aero Club, press interviews and a lot more besides.

Having done all this, we were left with a sword of Damocles that hovered over our heads until the deed was done. We had declared that we would fly as early as possible in May. Homebuilt planes registered with the Popular Flying Association (UK) are not allowed to fly in cloud so the attempt would be completely weather dependent. As the days went by, the long distance to be flown over very empty water seemed even longer. We were unable to include a life raft due to the additional weight involved. We were only too well aware that in the event of having to ditch, our chance of surviving would be very poor indeed. It really made us understand the pressures felt by long distance record breakers, albeit on a small scale.

The idea came after reading in Flyer magazine about the record set by Nick Lambert who flew the course from Lands End to John o'Groats last year in a diesel powered Diamond DA40 D of 135 hp. at 138.553 mph.

For a number of years, I have been a technical consultant for the British Disabled Flying Association. In order to further raise awareness of the possibilities of flying for the disabled, we thought that it might be a good idea to try to break Nick's record.......after all, our aircraft is a lot faster than the Diamond.

The Glasair RG is a fast kit plane which took us 7 years and over 7500 hours to build. Its construction was a saga in itself prompting me to suggest that all kits should come with a free Zimmer frame! The aircraft won top awards for home built aircraft in the 2003 PFA(UK) and RSA (France) rallies.

Jenny is a stiff pensioner grandmother with mobility difficulties. I am a fat one legged granddad deep in male menopause. While flying in the UK and Europe we had realised that despite legislation, little has been done on many airfields to accommodate disabled pilots. What better message could there be that disabled folks take to the skies on equal terms with the able bodied but need a bit more help on the ground?

After all the preparation had been completed, we waited for our weather experts at SkyBook to give us a green light. What we wanted was of course clear skies and a strong following wind. What came on offer was reasonable weather with perhaps a small component of following wind over part of the course. British weather being what it is, we decided to take the chance.


RNAS Culdrose

Leaving Shobdon, in Herefordshire, on the 11th of May, we had an uneventful flight to RNAS Culdrose, close to Lands End. We are reluctant to operate our Glasair from grass strips such as Lands End so Royal Navy Culdrose came to our rescue. We were given a very warm welcome there and were able to stay at their wardroom. Sleep evaded us for much of the night due to nerves and I must have redone the fuel calculations at least three times!

The morning of the 12th was not at all promising, with low clouds and a freezing cold Easterly wind but we soon discovered that further North the weather was clear so the attempt was on.

And was Culdrose cold! A long pre-flight check left us chilled to the bone. Finally, everything was ready and the three of us took our places in G-BMIO. That's right, three of us.......we were also taking along Go Bear, a charity initiative by the Northamptonshire School of Flying to raise money for disabled flying. Go Bear has been in all kinds of planes, even with the Red Arrows and has his own log book. He will eventually be auctioned off to the highest bidder. There he sat, on top of the luggage, glaring at us in his dark goggles. It seemed only natural that any problems we experienced would be blamed on the bloody bear!

To be honest, we were more than a little concerned about being taken short on such a long flight. I always say we fly a fast plane because we cannot hold on for so long any more! This was one flight that could not be interrupted by a 'comfort stop'. To be on the safe side we had provided ourselves with geriatric diapers....just in case............. and was that was an embarrassing visit to the chemist shop!

On takeoff, we groped our way beneath low clouds to Lands End Airport where we were officially timed and then headed across empty sea at low level. Despite cockpit heating, we shivered for the first hour of flight. Gradually the weather cleared and before reaching the tip of South Wales we were able to climb to 6000ft and get the airspeed settled down. We were also going for a class record which is dependent on the weight of the aircraft (1000kg max). This meant we had to be sparing with the fuel on board so we were unable to go flat out and therefore flew the course at a more economical 75% of power. At 6000ft in smooth air, we were registering 193 kts over the ground. Even the simple task of passing control to the other reduced our speed by ten knots. Intense concentration was need to keep the aircraft flying at maximum speed.

The mountain ranges of Wales were a magnificent sight rising from cloud, grey and mysterious. It was a pity that we had left our camera in the car of one of our sponsors!

Changing frequency at Bardsey Island to RAF valley, we continued North towards a patch of cumulous cloud that had to be the Isle of Man. I.O.M. ATC worked us across the island and on leaving their frequency, ordered us to 'keep the pedal to the metal'; a great morale booster to two lonely people in charge of a bear!

All too soon we were over Scotland and transferred to Scottish FIS. Sadly a layer of cloud forced us to descend through the Glasgow area and much time was lost being bounced around and climbing again to clear the Scottish Highlands. We flew over majestic mountains covered in snow and at last began our slow descent towards RAF Lossiemouth where we were cleared for overflight and on to Wick and finally passed John o'Groats.

When Kirkwall appeared on the Garmin GPS map we were really able to begin to enjoy the flight. We had not been prepared for the vista that met us. The Orkney Isles laid out like jewels in a blue sea circling the famous Scapa Flow, home of the Royal Navy Atlantic fleet for a century. We were cleared to cross Kirkwall airfield at 1000ft at VNE and turned downwind to land. We were told that this was the best weather the Orkney Isles had enjoyed so far this year.

Proudly we were able to declare that our comfort preparations had remained unused. Comfort was regained for me after a brief (pardon the pun) all-in wrestling match with my monstrous elasticated geriatric bloomers and Jenny was rushed off to the loo and by the way, we had broken the record!


the Orkney Isles


arrival at Kirkwall

The welcome we received at Kirkwall was overwhelming. Following press interviews and after completing more paperwork we were able to leave the airfield and spend the next 36 hours enjoying this fabulous island. The Orcadians are warm smiling hospitable people who clearly love their beautiful islands. The food was fantastic! I enjoyed the best steak I think I have ever had and discovered a beer called Dark Island....a true elixir of the Gods.

We sadly left on Saturday and returned to Shobdon in clear weather with a Northerly wind behind us. We have had our few minutes of fame and must say we found it all a bit overwhelming. It is an adventure that we will remember for a long time to come and will no doubt bore many people with it. As life now returns to normal, it already seems a long way away. The cats were glad to see us home and celebrated by being sick on the duvet.

We now have plans to return to the Orkney Isles, but this time, (don't tell anyone) with a caravan!

We would like to thank every one involved with the record attempt....... from our sponsors to all those who gave us so much hospitality, help and kindness. A special thanks to Kirkwall Airport for their welcome and assistance and to Nick Lambert for his gracious gift of a bottle of Bolinger!


safe arrival at Shobdon airfield, Herefordshire the pilotfriend Glasair

the record

If we had carried more fuel and had enjoyed slightly better weather, we could have flown at 100% power and completed the run at over 200 knots....buts who's counting? We are being asked  "what's next?". The answer is "no idea". We do not see ourselves as members of that special group of record breaking pilots and usually spend our time worrying about finding the money to pay for hangerage! We intend to continue to actively campaign for better airfield access for disabled pilots. We did in fact fly further than John o'Groats as we had to land at Kirkwall.

distance  539.8 nautical miles  (621 statute miles)

time in flight Land end to John o Groats  3 hours 40 seconds

speed 180.14 knots 207.3 mph

The record could be broken by a fast twin engined aircraft or a faster single such as the Glasair 3 or Lancair 4. Nick Lambert still holds the record for class C1C while we will hold the record for class C1B, hopefully for some time to come. The record has been formally ratified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Paris.

So if the idea of being a world record holder fire you up, check out the FAI and go for it!