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Radical for its day, the Douglas Skyray looked even more exotic bedecked in the stars-and-deep blue of the Navy's VFAW-3 squadron. (John MacNeill)

Beautiful Climber

In the summer of '58, nothing was faster to 50,000 feet.

The oracles of aviation might have said that the end was discernible on May 27, 1958, just four days after LeFaivre became the fastest man to 50,000 feet. That was the date of the Phantom II’s first flight. “As soon as the Phantom came in,” says Erv Heald, “we were out of business.”
Well, not entirely. Douglas tried to sell a new, improved Ford called the Skylancer, a longer, more powerful Skyray without the warts. The test pilots liked the new airplane, but the Navy chose Chance Vought’s F8U Crusader. Because the Skylancer was never produced, the Ford earned one final distinction: It was Douglas’ last fighter.

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