In the first part I'll cover the time period through WWII. That marks the period of piston engines and props. In the second installment I'll take us to where we are today.
Throughout the history of flight there is always one plane that went faster than the rest. I thought it would be interesting to trace the history of just which plane was the fasted from the beginning of flight. The first fastest was the Wright flyer at 6.8 MPH. Of course it was the first plane so it was easy to be the fastest!
Then came those Wright boys again with the Wright Flyer III This managed a blistering 37.8 MPH in 1905.
But before two long other folks were cracking the mysteries of flight. The French in particular were showing some talents. In 1906 Alberto Santos-Dumont actually offically clocked a speed on the books. While slower that the estimated speeds set by the Wrights this one was official! That first official record was just shy of 26 MPH. This record setting French aviator used his Santos-Dumont 14-bis.
1907 the record would fall again to an Englishman by the name of Henry Farman. He squeaked out 33 MPH flight in his Voisin-Farman I. This plane would go on to wins several races.
At this point avation was making advances at a break neck pace. Folks were flying planes for the Wrights. And a year later the record fell to Paul Tissandier in a Wright Model A reaching 34 MPH!
Later that year a fellow the aviation world would be hearing a lot about set the bar quite a bit higher. Glenn Curtis in his Curtiss No. 2 added a ful 10 MPH to the record with a remarkable for the time 44.3 MPH!
Within days the French would have none of that and they took the record at 46MHP. So towards the end of 1909 Louis Blériot was the fastest aviator alive in his Blériot XI. A few days later he would set the record again at nearly 48MPH.
In those early years the French were hard to match, much less beat. Hubert Latham would set the record during 1910 at 48 MPH in a Antoinette VII.
Leave it to the French again. This time the record would fall not by little but a lot. Léon Morane managed a little faster than 66MPH in 1910 flyng a newer Blériot design.
October 1910 found another Frenchman claiming the honor of being the fastest aviator in the world. Alfred Leblanc set a record of just past 68 MPH in you guessed it, another Blériot !
Then in April of 1911 Alfred Leblanc managed to fly a Blériot Blériot to almost 70 MPH! I'm not even going to find a correct picture but here is one close enough to give you an idea!
Surely someone could wrestle the record away from the French and the Blériot aircraft! Well, no, the French would hold the record when Édouard Nieuport set it with a different design in May of 1911 with a Nieuport IIN at a speed of 73 MPH! Here is a Nieuport IIN.
Through the rest of 1911 Alfred Leblanc and Édouard Nieuport would trade the record till it rested and nearly 83 MPH!
The came along a new plane and pilot with what it took to be fastest! January of 1912 the fastest became 88 MPH when Jules Védrines came along in his Deperdussin Monocoque. Airplanes were starting to look more along the lines of airplanes today. No more open structures and evidence of streamlining can be seen. Through till July 1912 he would continue to fly this plane faster and faster ending with a speed of 107 MPH!
What followed for the next record was still Jules Védrines at 118 in a plane I can find little record of. It is interesting to note that the record setters seemed to largely be monoplanes even though most airplanes of the day were multi planes.
In 1913 Maurice Prévost became the fastest pilot with a 112 MPH run. He was flying another Deperdussin Monocoque. He would continue to bump up hist speed with a final run in 1913 of 127 MPH.
WWI basically put a kink in speed records but speeds continued to climb. In 1914 Norman Spratt became unofficially the fastest pilot alive with a speed of 135MPH in the very capable Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.4.
Then once again the Americans are back in the mix. In 1918 Roland Rohlfs set an unoffical record of 163 MPH in a Curtiss 18.
In 1919 the French claimed unofficially to have reached 191 MPH. The pilot Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was said to have done this in a Nieuport-Delage NiD 29V. In 1920 Joseph set out to make it official but was only able to record a lower 171 MPH speed. But this was still enough to now make him officially thr fastest pilot alive! Here is the type of plane he set that record in.
So with the distraction of the war past pilots could again focus on moving that bar. Jean Casale would do it in 1920 with a 176 MPH run in a Spad-Herbemont 20 bis. Later that year Bernard de Romanet would squeak out 182 MPH in the same type of plane. Here is a Spad-Herbemont 20 bis.
At the very end of 1920 Bernard de Romanetwould set the record of 192 MPH in a SPAD S.XX.
A month later Joseph Sadi-Lecointe would take the record with a 195MPH run in a Nieuport-Delage NiD 29V.
A year later Joseph Sadi-Lecointe would come back with a blistering (for the time) 205 MPH record in a Nieuport-Delage Sesquiplane.
October 11922 Billy Mitchell brought the honor of having the fastest aviator to America. Billy set the record at 223 MPH in the Curtiss R, the first of a series of Curtiss record setting planes. A couple of days later he would bump it up to 224 MPH with the same plane.
The French would have none of that and the following year, 1923 Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was back in the spot spot with 233 MPH in his Nieuport-Delage.
Americans wanted the record back and 1st Lt. Russell L. Maughan took up a Curtiss R6 and managed 237 MPH.
Near the end of 1923 1923 Lt. Harold J. Brow would take a Curtiss R2C-1 to 259 MPH only to have the record snatched away two days later by Lt. Alford J. Williams in a Curtiss R2C-1 with a 267 MPH run.
Towards the end of 1924 Florentin Bonnet became the worlds fastest aviator for France in a Bernard-Ferbois V.2. at a speed of 287 MPH.
That record would stand for three years till near the end of 1927 Mario de Bernardi flew a Macchi M.52 seaplane to an amazing for the time 298 MPH. For some time seaplanes would be some of the fastest planes around. Aided by the fact water could provide almost unlimited take off runs and the focus on international seaplane racing they led the design of fast aircraft. Here is a Macchi M.52. In 1928 Mario de Bernardi would take that plane to 299MPH!
Another Italian would set an unofficial record of 262 MPH in another Macchi seaplane. The Macchi M.67.
September of 1929 George H. Stainforth used a Gloster VI to set an official if slower record at 336 MPH. Here is the Gloster VI.
Bug George's glory was to be short lived. Two days later Augustus Orlebar set the bar to 358 MPH in a Supermarine S.6. Notice the extreme fixed pitch propeller that would have been impractical on a land based plane. George H. Stainforth would fly a variant of that racer to 408 MPH on September 13th of 1931.
The Italians would win back the honor when Francesco Agello piloted another Macchi racer to a speed of 424 MPH and then to 441 MPH in April of 1933. This remains the world record for Seaplane speeds. Here is the remarkable Macchi M.C.72 which can be found in at the Italian Air force Museum today.
So the records take a bit of a turn slower as different organizations took over the process of declaring the record holders. So the FAA said that Howard Hughes was the fastest aviator at 354 MPH in 1935. His Hughes racer remains in many folks option one of the most beautiful planes ever built. The racer can be seen today in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
With the rustling of WWII in the background the politics of having the fastest planes in the world was not lost on Germany. So we would see a series of record planes from the Germans. In 1937 Dr.Hermann Wurster would pilot a Bf 109 V13 to 378 MPH. This was not the standar fighter but a heavily modified record setting plane.
They would follow with another record that same year when Fritz Wendel flew a He 100 V8 to 467 MPH.
They would then follow this in April of 1939 when Fritz Wendel would fly the Me 209 V1 to 469 MPH.
That will do it for part one. Next installment we will look at jets and rockets with a few honorable mentions related to pistons and props that have happened since the ME209 was the fastest plane the ever flew.