75 Years Ago: Back-to-Back Skystreak Records

Pre-dating Chuck Yeager’s ride in X-1, U.S. Navy CDR Turner Foster “Stinky” Caldwell set a new world air-speed record of 640.663 mph while flying Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak #1 (Bureau No. 37970-NACA 140), on this day in 1947, earning the Weatherhead Award.

Just five days later, Marine Major Marion Eugene Carl bested CaIdwell’s record, hitting 650.796 mph in Skystreak # 2 (Bureau Number 37971-NACA 141).

The two pilots—Caldwell (right) and Carl (left)—are pictured here. Although both NACA 140 and 141 had been painted scarlet for improved visibility, in flying the aircraft both Douglas and NACA personnel discovered that the scarlet color was difficult to discern against the dark blue desert sky. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2012.004.090

D-558-1 in flight. During the winter of 1947-1948, NACA repainted NACA 141 with white color. Credits: NACA / NASA Photo

Caldwell, USNA 1935, was skipper of “Shademaids” of CVLG(N)-41 and, likewise, of VF(N)-41 while aboard the light carrier USS Independence (CVL-22), the Navy’s first dedicated night combat aircraft carrier. He also had a Navy Cross, thrice. 

Navy Cross:” For…the sinking or damaging of at least eight enemy Japanese vessels at Tulagi and in the sinking or severe damaging of another in the Coral Sea…”

Gold Star in lieu of the Second Navy Cross: “For extraordinary heroism…as Commanding Officer of a detachment of his Bomber Squadron in action against enemy Japanese forces during their assaults on our Guadalcanal positions in the period August 24 to September 23, 1942…”

Gold Star in lieu of the Third Navy Cross: For contributing to the destruction of three enemy ships at Salamaua and Lea, New Guinea, on March 10, 1942. 

Caldwell retired as a Vice Admiral in 1967, presumably to get a hearing aid so he could make out what people were saying over the sound of his balls clanging together. 

Carl earned his wings in December 1939 and was the Marine’s first World War II fighter ace, with 18.5 confirmed aerial victories with VMF-221 (at Midway) and later VMF-223, flying with the Cactus Air Force from Guadalcanal. He famously ended Japanese Navy Tainan Kōkūtai ace Junichi Sasai’s career over Henderson Field. Carl, with two Navy Crosses to his credit, went on to fly tense recon missions over Mainland China in the 1950s, command the 2nd MAW in Vietnam– where he once again flew combat missions– and served as Inspector General of the Marine Corps until retiring in 1973. By then he had logged a massive 13,000 flying hours in everything from Brewster Buffalos to F-4 Phantoms. Sadly, he was killed in a home invasion in 1998, aged 82.

As for the D-558-1 Skystreak, just three were produced. D-558-1 #1 – BuNo 37970 NACA-140, flew 101 flights and today rests at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola. Carl’s bird, Skystreak #2, made a total of 19 flights with the NACA before it, sadly, crashed on takeoff due to compressor disintegration on May 3, 1948, killing NACA pilot Howard C. Lilly. Skystreak #3 is owned by the Carolinas Historical Aviation Museum located at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

Pensacola’s D-558-1 Skystreak is on display restored to its original scarlet. Displayed on a wall in the museum as if in a tight turn, D-558-1 (Bureau Number 37970) was the first Skystreak produced and the one in which Commander Turner F. Caldwell established a world speed record of 640.743 M.P.H. on August 20, 1947, followed immediately after by Major Marion Carl in Skystreak 2

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