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29th of September 1946

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

In this day of ultra long haul flights, we tend to forget the long-haul achievements in history. Currently, the longest flight in flight time is the Los Angeles - Singapore route operated by United Airlines. Flight time 17 hours and 50 minutes. On this day in aviation history in 1946, a truly long haul flight took off for what would be a 55-hour 17-minute flight!

U.S. Navy Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle

The purpose of the flight was to show the capabilities of the US Navy's new bomber the Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune. In a memo Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz suggested a non-stop flight from Perth Australia to Washinton D.C. An aircraft was chosen and prepaired. It was an early production version of the Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, the third production aircraft with the bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 89082, the aircraft received the name "The Turtle".

All unnecessary equipment was stripped out of the aircraft to make it as light as possible;

  • All armament was removed

  • The nose gun turret was replaced by an aluminium nose

  • Mission electronics were removed

  • Equipment not needed was removed, such as the crew oxygen system.

Other equipment had to be installed;

  • Additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay, rear fuselage and the outer wings

  • Wingtip tanks (to be jettisoned when empty to reduce weight and drag

  • A tank with engine oil was installed in the nose gear bay

The standard Wright Cyclone R3350-8 engines were replaced by Wright Cyclone R3350-14 engines. The -14 had the same power rating as the -8 engines, however a -14 engine weight 65 lbs (29 kg) less than a -8 engine. Additional power would be required to get the aircraft into the air, and for that purpose, two JATO rockets were installed on each side of the aft fuselage.

The Turtle, Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082 demonstrates a JATO takeoff prior to its record flight.

After several test flights, the aircraft and its crew were deemed ready for the mission. The crew would consist of 4 pilots;

  • Commander Thomas D. Davies, (Aircraft Commander)

  • Commander Eugene P. Rankin

  • Commander Walter S. Reid

  • Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Tabeling

On the 29th of September 1946, the mission was given the green light. The flight would depart from Pearce Aerodrome, 6 miles of the Indian Ocean, not of Perth, Australia. The aircraft would be so much overweight with all the full it was scheduled to carry that it was decided to due to final top-up of the tanks on the runway, Once the aircraft was completely fueled its All-Up Weight was 85,561 pounds (38,810 kilograms) a staggering 24,408 pounds (11,071 kilograms) over its maximum gross weight.

At 6.00 pm the engines were started and warmed up. With the engines at the correct temperature the engines, propellors and mixtures were set for take-off and with all indications normal the brakes were released at 06.11 pm and the aircraft slowly accelerated. At 87 knots (100mph / 161kph) the JATO rockets were fired and the aircraft accelerated to 115 knots and the nose was lifted off the ground, a few seconds later followed by the main gear. When the aircraft reached 20 feet (6 meters) of altitude at a speed of 130 knots the JATO rockets were burned out, and later when over the ocean jettisoned.

Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle, at Perth, Western Australia

Slowly they climbed on their great circle course towards the USA over the Pacific. And the crew settled in in their routine of 2 hours on duty / 2 hours off duty. Headwinds slowly pushed the aircraft south of its intended route, but they decided not to correct for it to avoid burning more fuel when turning the aircraft in the wind. this resulted in crossing the coast of the continental United States about 550 miles (1000 km) more south than planned.

On the 30th of September, the tip tanks were empty, and they were jettisoned before making landfall north of San Francisco California (USA)

Over the continental USA, they encountered severe weather (freezing rain, snow and ice) with turbulence. All the weather caused a much bigger fuel consumption than predicted/planned and it became clear they would make Washington D.C. Commander Davies decided that the furthest they could push it would be Naval Air Station Columbus, Ohio (USA)

When they touched down in Columbus they had flown a distance of 9763.49 nm (18081.98 kilometers), flight duration was 55 hours and 17 minutes! They established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognised World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing. After this epic flight, the aircraft was used as a test aircraft until its retirement in 1953, after which she went on display at NAS Norfolk Virginia. The aircraft was preserved and is currently on loan to the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Bu. No. 89082 The Turtle on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Some specifications of the (standard) Lockheed P2V -1 Neptune;

  • Length: 75'4"(22.96 meters)

  • Wingspan: 100' (30.48 meters)

  • Height: 28' 6" (8.69 meters)

  • Empty Weight: 33.720 lbs (15.295 kg)

  • Gross Weight: 61.153 lbs (27.739)

  • Powerpant; 2x Wright Cyclone R-3350-8 18 cylinder radial engines

  • Proppelor 4 bladed

  • Vmo 263 knots (488 kph)

  • Ceiling 27.000 feet (8230 meters)

  • Range 3571 nm (6614 kilometers)

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