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January 14, 1936, Newark, N.J.—American aviator Howard Hughes arrived at Newark Airport after completing a record-breaking sprint across the North American continent. The flight started in Burbank, Calif., and ended 9 hours, 27 minutes and 10 seconds later in Newark. The former record for that distance, approximately 2,500 miles, was 10 hours, 5 minutes and 30 seconds, held by Colonel Roscoe Turner. Hughes stated that while in California he wanted to “see New York…so I tried to see how fast I could do it in.”

Hughes made his trip in a Northrop Gamma fitted with a special 1,000-hp Wright SR-1820-G2 radial engine. He bought the plane from fellow aviator Jacqueline Cochran because his own Hughes Aircraft H-1 racer had been built for short flights at low altitudes. Cochran wanted to establish her own transcontinental record, but Hughes offered her a huge sum of money for the one-of-a-kind plane. Within just a few weeks, Hughes had used the plane to set speed records from Miami to New York and Chicago to Los Angeles.

One year later, Hughes redesigned his H-1 racer, nicknamed Winged Bullet, to handle long distances. He again flew from Burbank to Newark, and, despite almost losing consciousness when his oxygen mask failed, he made the flight in an astonishing 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. The achievement earned him the Harmon International Trophy for the world’s most outstanding aviator of 1937.


January 6, 1911, Calcutta, India—When some 750,000 people gathered to witness Henri Jullerot fly England’s first production airplane, the Bristol Boxkite No. 12, it was the largest group of spectators ever assembled for a single aviation event prior to World War I. The Calcutta spectacle was the brainchild of Sir George White, founder of the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, the first Englishman to produce airplanes bought by the British army as well as sold for export. The gathering was intended to increase international sales by showcasing a Boxkite fitted with upper wing extensions for military activities. Soon the company was producing eight of the planes per month.

In 1916 White died, but his legacy lived on in the British fighter aircraft produced by his newly named Bristol Aeroplane Company during World War I. Later in 1916, the company introduced the Bristol F.2A, simply known as the Bristol Fighter (story, P. 22). By combining a 190-hp Rolls-Royce Falcon engine with a two-seat biplane design, Bristol managed to create a highly maneuverable two-seater capable of dueling with single-seat planes. Its slightly lower speed, attributable to the extra person, was more than accounted for by the heavy firepower dispatched by the rear-mounted machine gun and its great reconnaissance ability. Bristol airplane advances continued into World War II with the Bristol Beaufighter, one of the few British aircraft capable of combating German night raiders during the Battle of Britain (story, P. 30).

In 1960 political pressure forced the Bristol Aeroplane Company to merge with the British Aircraft Corporation, but the automobile division of Bristol, originally founded in 1946 and named Bristol Cars Ltd., carried on under private ownership. That company recently introduced the Bristol Fighter luxury-class automobile, named after Bristol’s classic two-seater from World War I. It possesses an all-aluminum V-10 engine, can reach a maximum speed of approximately 210 mph and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4 seconds. The automobile was obviously designed with the spirit of independent aviation innovation in mind, and at a base price of £195,000 (about $346,000) it is more expensive than many personal airplanes. The Bristol name, important in the pioneering days of early aviation and in defense of Britain in war, now lends a unique allure to another kind of high-performance vehicle.


Originally published in the January 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.