Before He Flew Into Space, This Aviator Smashed the Transcontinental Speed Record

July 16. 1957

U.S. Marine Corps Major John H. Glenn set a transcontinental speed record when he piloted a Vought F8U Crusader jet aircraft from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California to Floyd Bennett Field in New York City. Glenn dubbed this cross-country effort “Project Bullet” to emphasize the plane’s high-speed capability.

Glenn completed this flight of 2,445 miles (3,935 kilometers) in only three hours, 23 minutes, and 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.55 miles (1,167.66 kilometers) per hour despite having to slow down the plane three times to less than 300 miles (482.80 kilometers) per hour for in-flight refuelings. Glenn achieved another distinction during the flight when he used a camera on board the plane to take the first continuous, panoramic photograph of the United States.

“The flight was real fine. No strain at all,” Glenn remarked after completing the transcontinental journey. “But now I’ve got to go back to work. I flew coast-to-coast. But I didn’t even make my flight time for the month.”

Maj. John Glenn, the “MiG Mad Marine,” in his USAF F-86 Sabre during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The flight made Glenn a national celebrity. “Supersonic Champion,” proclaimed a headline in the New York Times the following day. This record-setting mission earned Glenn his Fifth Distinguished Flying Cross. He also appeared on the TV game show “Name That Tune.” Even more significantly, Glenn was one of the seven astronauts selected for the pioneering U.S. human spaceflight program known as Project Mercury. In 1962, he made history yet again as the first American to orbit Earth.

For more information on John H. Glenn’s 1957 record-breaking flight across the United States, please check out https://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/john-glenns-project-bullet-138177585/.

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