Two RF-101s had to fly round-trip from Los Angeles to New York and back again and two Voodoos had to fly the one-way flight from Los Angeles to New York
On Nov. 27, 1957, four U.S. Air Force (USAF) pilots belonging to the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing successfully completed Operation Sun Run by establishing three new transcontinental speed records in a McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo aircraft. The record-breaking mission showcased the speed and range of the RF-101C, an improved version of the first supersonic photo reconnaissance aircraft, the RF-101A.
Six RF-101C aircraft were prepared to take part in Operation Sun Run – two to fly round-trip from Los Angeles to New York and back again, two for the one-way flight from Los Angeles to New York, and two for backups if problems arose with the four primary aircraft.
Noteworthy, as explained in the article Operation Sun Run, the undertaking required massive coordination of aircraft crews and radar and weather stations from coast to coast.
Six pilots of the 17th and 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing were chosen for Operation Sun Run. Since they would not know which flight they were assigned until a few days before the operation each pilot prepared for the round-trip flight. Despite the fact the RF-101 was relatively new to Tactical Air Command (TAC) all six pilots had extensive experience in photo reconnaissance aircraft.
However the success of Operation Sun Run also depended on the performance of the USAF’s first jet tanker, the newly available KC-135 Stratotanker. The KC-135’s speed in fact allowed the RF-101s to refuel at an altitude of 35,000 feet and a speed of Mach 0.8. Crews from Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Air Force Research and Development Command prepared for the 26 refuelings the Operation Sun Run RF-101Cs would require.
At 6:59 a.m., Nov. 27, 1957, Capt. Ray Schrecengost took off from Ontario International Airport near Los Angeles on the first RF-101C round-trip flight of Operation Sun Run.
He was followed by Capt. Robert Kilpatrick on his one-way flight and Capt. Donald Hawkins, flying back-up. Capt. Hawkins followed until the first refueling was complete, and then flew to March Air Force Base (AFB), Calif. At 7:50 a.m., Capt. Robert Sweet took off on the second round-trip flight. Lt. Gustav Klatt followed, beginning his one-way trip. Their backup, Capt. Robert Burkhart, also flew to March AFB after the first successful refueling.
All four RF-101C pilots easily surpassed the previous speed records and established new ones.
The new Los Angeles to New York record was established by Lt. Klatt, at 3 hours, 7 minutes and 43.63 seconds. Capt. Sweet set the round-trip record, at a time of 6 hours, 46 minutes and 36.21 seconds, and the New York to Los Angeles record, at a time of 3 hours, 36 minutes and 32.33 seconds.
The RF-101C you can see in these photos took part in Operation Sun Runn and today is on display at the National Museum Of The U.S. Air Force, Dayton. This Voodoo also flew vital low-altitude reconnaissance during the Cuban Missile Crisis helping confirm that offensive missile sites in Cuba were being dismantled. It also served in Southeast Asia with the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. It was flight delivered from the 153rd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Mississippi Air National Guard at Key Field, Miss., to the museum on Oct. 27, 1978.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force