Flying Caduceus


Los Angeles physician Dr. Nathan Ostich built the world's first "jet" propulsion land speed car, the Flying Caduceus, in 1960.

He chose the car's name from the medical profession's "caduceus" symbol of staff with entwined snakes and added a pair of wings denoting speed.

He began construction by obtaining a Convair B-36 bomber General Electric J-47 turbojet engine, which became the determining factor in the dimensions of the car. The frame is made of 2-inch square steel tubing. The suspension components were derived from Chevrolet truck parts and comprised A-arms and torsion bars. Firestone machined the special wheels from solid forged aluminum. Firestone tires were of tubeless construction holding 200 pounds pressure. The driver sat ahead of the front wheels, in a multi-windowed proboscis.

When it was unveiled early in 1960, Ostich announced a goal of 500 mph and in August, he ran the Flying Caduceus at Bonneville Salt Flats. He encountered a few problems, the worst being a defective fuel pump, a "loose" steering system, and fiberglass air ducts that were too lightweight. Ostich returned to Bonneville in 1962 but directional instability was apparent when the car began to slide sideways.

When the Flying Caduceus tried again in 1963, it reached its best speed of 359.7 mph, but the tachometer showed the engine to be running at only 90 percent of rated rpm. Ostich was trying to beat Craig Breedlove's record 407.45 mph, but since the Flying Caduceus just couldn't summon that extra muscle, Ostich did not try again.

ENGINE: General Electric J-47-19
  Turbo-Jet, 6,930 H.P.
Displacement 5,200 FT/LBS

And yes it was a replica of Flying Caduceus that appeared in the 2005 film, The World’s Fastest Indian.

Popular science - July 1960

These photos were taken at Harrah's Auto Museum, Reno, Nevadah 2007


Source of most of the other photos: Samuel Hawley (author of Speed Duel)

Dr. Nathan Ostich holding a model of the Flying Caduceus circa 1960
Ray Brock (right) with Firestone engineers testing the tires for Caduceus circa 1960 (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
One of the Caduceus wheels on the Firestone testing rig circa 1960 (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
Flying Caduceus on its trailer at Wendover, 1960, 14-year-old Ron Christensen posing in front (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Another shot of young Ron Christensen with the Caduceus, in front of Wendover's Western Motel (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus at the Western Motel in Wendover, 1960 (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus under its awning out on the salt flats, 1960 (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus' J-47 jet engine is static tested out on the salt before Ostich makes his first run, 1960 (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
The Caduceus pits at Bonneville in the first season, 1960 (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Nathan Ostich loses a wheel when he returns to the salt with Caduceus in 1962 (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus after the 1962 spin-out; Ostich escaped unharmed (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus' front wheel was torn right off (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Caduceus crew members and onlookers eye the damage (courtesy Ron Christensen)
Another shot of the damaged racer, a fire extinguisher close at hand (courtesy Ron Christensen)
The Caduceus returns to Bonneville in 1963 with a tail (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
Project principals Ray Brock (left) and Alan Bradshaw with the Caduceus, 1963 (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
Nathan Ostich, "Doc," with the Flying Caduceus, 1963 (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
Ostich in the cockpit, 1963, with brother John Ostich (left), Alan Bradshaw (center) and Ray Brock looking on (courtesy Alan Bradshaw)
An autograph collected by a young fan back in 1960: "Flying Caduceus, Nathan Ostich MD" (courtesy Ron Christensen)