21 January 1937

Louise Thaden with Beechcraft C17R NC15835. This is probably the airplane with which she set the 21 January 1937 record, serial number C17R-81. There were three C17Rs registered with the number 15835, serial numbers C17R-74, C17R-77 and C17R-81. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

21 January 1937: Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden set a U.S. national record flying her Consolidated Blue Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NC15835 (serial number C17R-81) from Detroit, Michigan, to Akron Municipal Airport, Akron, Ohio, in 40 minutes, 43 seconds. She had departed Detroit, Michigan, at 3:07:17 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (20:07:17 UTC) and crossed overhead Akron at 3:38:00. (20:38:00 UTC).

Great Circle route from Detroit, Michigan, across Lake Erie, to Akron, Ohio. Distance: 127 miles (204 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

Mrs. Thaden Flies Akron-Detroit Route In 40 Minutes; Beats Ray Brown Record

Time Officially Clocked as Plane Hurtles Over Municipal Airport

By Helen Waterhouse

RUSHING through space in her streamlined blue plane yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Louise Thaden, plucky Bendix race winner, broke all previous records between Detroit and Akron.

     The tall Arkansas girl crossed Akron airport just 40 minutes and 43 seconds after leaving Detroit. That constituted an official record, Ray brown, official of the National Aeronautic association, said.

     “Wheels off and over the line, is the timing rule,” said Brown. “While Mrs Thaden did not actually land on the port until almost three minutes later, the time crossing the port is what counts.”

     The ship had accumulated such speed that it far overshot the port, and came roaring back from the east with the thunder of an army bomber.


     “I beat you by two minutes, Ray,” called the smiling aviatrix as she leaned from the cockpit.

     She was referring to an unofficial record made by Brown last November. At that time Brown made the trip in 42 minutes, but there were no official checkers to record it.

     J.A. McCann and Airport Manager B.E. “Shorty” Fulton served in this capacity with Brown yesterday.

     The girl who has constantly made air records then climbed nimbly from the ship to be greeted by her hostess, Mrs. Brown, and a small crowd of spectators.

     Aside from the fact that her eyes were bloodshot from the wind, she showed no effects of the terrific speed at which she had traveled. “I hardly knew I had been in the air, it was such a short trip,” she laughed.

     Bareheaded when she landed, she jammed a gray sports hat onto her tousled hair as she alighted. She wore a gray flannel dress, gray sports shoes and a belted caracul coat.


     Lighting one cigaret after another, she upbraided herself for having so far overshot the port.

     “Gosh, I don’t know what my top speed was,” she said. “I was too busy up there. I flew at 5,000 feet all the way.”

     She scanned the lowering clouds. A few drops of rain were falling. “Doubt if I get off for Montreal tomorrow,” she said cheerfully.

     She explained that from Montreal she is flying to the air show in New York City.

     Brown figured that the girl had averaged 160 miles and hour over the 110-mile route.

     “I just thought it would it would be fun to try to beat your record,” Mrs. Thaden said to him.

     After watching her speedy little ship into the Akron Airways hangar, she rode to town with the Browns.

     “Things are definitely picking up in the air industry,” she said. “In the last few months I have flown all over the country, and I see great evidence of the pickup in the industry all along the line.

Akron Beacon Journal, Vol. 98, No. 41, Friday, 22 January 1937, Page 21, at Column 5–7.

[The distance between Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) and Akron Fulton International Airport (AKR) is 127 statute miles (204 kilometers). Mrs. Thaden’s average speed over the course would have been 187.147 miles per hour (301.184 kilometers per hour).]

Just four months, 18 days earlier, Louise Thaden had become the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race, flying another Beechraft C17R “Staggerwing,” R15835, serial number C17R-77, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, in 14 hours, 55 minutes, 1.0 seconds.¹ [At this time, airplanes in the experimental or restricted categories were prohibited from displaying the U.S. national identifier, the letter N, as they were not allowed to fly outside the United States.]

Beechcraft C17R R15835 (s/n C17R-77) at the finish of the Bendix Trophy Race, Mines Field, Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

The Bendix race winning airplane had already been sold to the government of the República de Honduras, but Walter Beech let Louse Thaden and Blanche Wilcox Noyes fly it for the race. It was then returned to the Beechcraft plant for overhaul and repainting, before being flown to Honduras by Paul E. Zimmerman. It was assigned to the Escuela Militar de Aviacion.

Beech had another Beechcraft C17R, serial number C17R-81, and also registered NC15835, built for Louise Thaden in October 1936, the month after the Bendix Trophy Race. After being test flown by Mrs. Thaden, it was delivered to her 12 October 1936. It was painted Consolidated Blue with white trim in the same paint scheme as C17R-77. The interior had blue leather seats with Colonial Blue carpet.

C17R-81 is the airplane that Thaden flew to set the 21 January 1937 record.

The Beechcraft C17R was single-engine, single-bay biplane operated by a single pilot and could carry up to three passengers in its enclosed cabin. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs with the leading edges and wing tips covered with plywood. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with electrically-operated retractable landing gear and wing flaps.

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The Staggerwing was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records.

The Beech C17R was 24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). According to the Bureau of Air Commerce license certificate dated 9 October 1936, C17R-81 had an empty weight of 2,393 pounds (1,085 kilograms), and its maximum gross weight was 3,900 pounds (1,769 kilograms).

The leading edge of the Model C17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1 inches (0.635 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 3°. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.524 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 273 square feet (25.4 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.

This photograph of Beechcraft Model 17s under construction at Wichita, Kansas, reveals the structure of the airplane. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Whirlwind 440 (R-975E3), a 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. The R-975E3 was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 92-octane gasoline. The engine was 43.00 inches (1.092 meters) long and 45.25 inches (1.149 meters) in diameter. It weighed 700 pounds (318 kilograms). The serial number of the engine installed in C17R-81 was 12885. It drove a two-bladed adjustable pitch Hamilton Standard propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters), serial number 18560.

This engine gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,500 feet (6,553 meters) and its range with standard fuel capacity, 98 gallons (371 liters), was 800 miles (1,288 kilometers).

The rear passenger seats of C17R-81 were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place, bringing to total fuel capacity to 121 gallons (458 liters).

Three C17R Staggerwings have been registered as N15835, including serial numbers C17R-74; C-17R-77, the Bendix race winner; and C17R-81, which was built for Thaden. FAA records indicate that the first, C17R-74, is currengtly registered N15835.

Mrs. Thaden’s personal C17R, s/n C17R-81, an incomplete restoration, was for sale at auction in November 2023.

Iris Louise McPhetridge, circa 1920 (Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System)
Louise McPhetridge, 1926. (The Razorback)

Iris Louise McPhetridge was born 12 November 1905 at Bentonville, Arkansas. She was the first of three daughters of Roy Fry McPhetridge, owner of a foundry, and Edna Hobbs McPhetridge. She was educated at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a member of the Class of 1927. She majored in journalism, and played basketball. She was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, and president of The Panhellenic.

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Louise Thaden’s pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Miss McPhetridge married Mr. Herbert von Thaden at San Francisco, California, 21 July 1928. Thaden was a former military pilot and an engineer. They would have two children, William and Patricia. Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. Mrs. Thaden was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden with her husband, Herbert von Thaden, in front of a Beechcraft C17R Staggerwing, NR15385. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: WOF_00355)

Louise Thaden is credited with having set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records.

Mrs. Thaden set an FAI World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet) over Oakland, California, 7 December 1928.²

On 17 March 1929, she set an FAI record for duration of 22 hours, 3 minutes, 28 seconds.³

14–22 August 1932 Thaden and Frances Marsalis flew a Curtiss Thrush to set an FAI world record for duation of 196 hours, 5 minutes.⁴

12 July 1936: World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers with an average speed of 176.35 kilometers per hour (109.58 miles per hour).⁵

Louise Thaden was secretary of the National Aeronautic Association, and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines, serving as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the US. national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936. She was also employed by the Bureau of Air Commerce.

Louise Thaden stopped flying in 1938. She died at High Point, North Carolina, 9 November 1979.

¹ Please see “This Day in Aviation” at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/4-september-1936/

² FAI Record File Number 12221. Please see TDiA for 7 December 1928 at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/7-december-1928/

³ FAI Record File Number 12223. Please see TDiA for 17 March 1929 at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/17-march-1929/

⁴ FAI Record File Number 12347. Please see TDiA for 14–22 August 1932 at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/14-22-august-1932/

⁵ FAI Record File Number 12022. Please see TDiA for 12 July 1936 at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/12-july-1936/

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes

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