Marine Corps Major John Glenn got up on the morning of July 16, 1957, strapped into a Vought F8U Crusader, and took off from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California like a cannon shot. Three hours, 23 minutes, and 8.4 seconds later (a time based on a National Aeronautic Association formula for records), he touched down at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, setting a transcontinental speed record: 725.55 mph.
Here’s an interesting tidbit:
The Crusader, sometimes called “the last gunfighter,” had no search radar, so for his three refuelings, Glenn had to find the AJ Savage tankers—North American’s converted twin-recip-engine bombers sent up in pairs for redundancy—using a direction finder to home on the tankers’ beacons.
During a practice refueling over Texas before the record flight, he recalls, “I was plugged in and taking fuel when the tanker’s right engine started belching black smoke. Then the left engine started doing the same thing. I pulled out the [refueling] drogue and flew wing on him, and he couldn’t hold altitude. He got down to around 3,500 feet and ordered a bailout.” Glenn watched the crew get out with three good chutes as the airplane descended and crashed in an open area. “It was full of fuel and went off like an atomic bomb,” he says. An investigation later revealed that the ground crew had mistakenly put jet fuel in the AJ’s gasoline tanks.