Tag Archives: Air Race

15 June 1928

Captain Gordon Percy Olley, M.M., with Imperial Airways’ Handley Page W.8b G-EBBI, R.M.A. Prince Henry, circa 1926. (Unattributed)

15 June 1928: Imperial Airways’ Captain Gordon P. Olley flew an Armstrong Whitworth A.W.154 Argosy Mk.I, G-EBLF, City of Glasgow, with 18 passengers aboard, from Croydon to Edinburgh Turnhouse in a race with the London and North Eastern Railways’ famed Class A-1 Flying Scotsman. The apple green steam-powered 4–6–2 Pacific-type locomotive pulled the world’s fastest passenger train in express service from London, England, to Glasgow, Scotland.

Imperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth Argosy Mk.I G-EBLF, City of Glasgow. (Unattributed)

Flight reported:

Train v. Aeroplane

     A novel “stunt” was carried out on June 15 when a simultaneous journey was made from London to Edinburgh by train and aeroplane—the “Flying Scotsman” and the Imperial Airways Armstrong-Whitworth air liner “City of Glasgow” respectively. After breakfast at the Savoy Hotel, the two parties of travellers proceeded to their respective points of departure—King’s Cross and Croydon. Train and aeroplane both departed at the same time, 10 a.m., the “City of Glasgow” being piloted by Capt. G. P. Olley, who was accompanied by Mr. J. Birkett, aged 79, a retired L.N.E.R. engine driver, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Vyell Vyvyan and Maj. Brackley. Capt. G. P. Jones, Imperial Airways pilot, was a passenger on the train! The “City of Glasgow” flew via the East Coast, and made stops at Bircham, Newton, and Cramlington; it arrived at Turnhouse Aerodrome, Edinburgh, 15 minutes before the “Flying Scotsman” reached Waverley Station.

FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1017. (No. 25 Vol. XX.), 21 June 1928, at Page 464, Column 2

Gordon Olley’s pilot license, issued 16 September 1919. (Air Ministry)

Gordon Percy Olley had been an aircraft mechanic during World War I, then became an observer. He was next trained as a fighter pilot flying Nieuport 17 and 27 fighters and is credited with 10 aerial victories between 1 June and 14 October 1917. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery, and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. After the War he became a civil aviator. Olley was the first pilot to have logged more than 1,000,000 air miles (1,609,344 kilometers).

Armstrong Whitworth A.W.154 Argosy Mk.I G-EBLF, City of Glasgow. (Unattributed)
Armstrong Whitworth A.W.154 Argosy Mk.I G-EBLF, City of Glasgow. (Unattributed)

City of Glasgow was the first of three Argosy Mk.I airliners built by Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Limited for Imperial Airways. It made its first flight 16 May 1925. A three-engine, three-bay biplane, it was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long and had a wingspan of 90 feet, 7½ inches (27.623 meters). The total wing area was 1,886 square feet (175.2 square meters). Its maximum takeoff weight was 19,200 pounds (8,709 kilograms). The Argosy was described as an “exceptionally comfortable airplane to fly in. . .”

The Argosy Mk.I was powered by three air-cooled, Normally-aspirated 1,511.89-cubic-inch-displacement (24.775 liter) Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar Series IIIA two-row 14-cylinder radial engines, rated at 385 horsepower at 1,700 r.p.m., and 425 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed propellers.

The Argosy had a cruising speed of 90–95 miles per hour (145–153 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour). Its maximum range was 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Three-view drawing of Armstrong Whitworth Argosy Mk.I (NACA)

During the airliner-vs.-passenger train race, the Argosy made three refueling stops which required a total of 1 hour, 24 minutes. Captain Olley and his airliner completed the 390-mile (627.6 kilometer) journey approximately 15 minutes faster than the train.

City of Glasgow was later upgraded to the Argosy Mk.II standard, which used the Jaguar Mk.IVA gear-reduction engines, rated at 420 horsepower. G-EBLF was withdrawn from use at Croydon, December 1934.

mperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth A.W.154 Argosy Mk.1, G-EBLF, City of Glasgow
Imperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth A.W.154 Argosy Mk.1, G-EBLF, City of Glasgow. (Unattributed)

The Flying Scotsman is a Standard Gauge 4-6-2 Pacific steam-powered railway locomotive produced by the Doncaster Works, Great Northern Railway’s “Plant” at Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England. It was built in 1923 as a Class A-1 locomotive for the London and North Eastern Railway. In January 1947, it was rebuilt to the Class A-3 configuration. It was later renumbered 502, 103 and 60103. Flying Scotsman set two world records for steam locomotives, for speed and distance.

The locomotive with its tender is 70 feet, 5-1/8 inches (21.463 meters) long, 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) high and weighs 156 tons, 12 centals (350,640 pounds, or 159,048 kilograms). The six driving wheels each have a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). At 85% of maximum boiler pressure (225 p.s.i., 15.17 Bar), the locomotive produces 32,909 pounds of tractive effort. Flying Scotsman was the first locomotive officially certified to have a speed of 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).

LNER rebuilt Gresley 4-6-2 'A3' class loco no 4472 FLYING SCOTSMAN at Swayfield Lodge on the Down Slow line with the 09:30 London Kings Cross to York charter which it will work between Peterborough and York. Sunday 27/02/1983. (David Ingham)
London and North Eastern Railway’s rebuilt Class A-3 Gresley 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive No. 4472, Flying Scotsman, at Swayfield Lodge on the Down Slow line with the 09:30 London Kings Cross-to-York charter, Sunday, 27 February 1983. (David Ingham)

The locomotive was originally assigned Great Northern Railway number 1472, before being taken over by LNER prior to completion. In 1924, it was given number 4472 and named Flying Scotsman. It was one of five Pacific-type express passenger locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley that were used to pull the London-to-Edinburgh Flying Scotsman passenger train, beginning in 1928. The journey by rail was 392 miles (631 kilometers) and the train was able to complete this non-stop by carrying 9 tons (8.2 metric tons) of coal in a tender and replenishing the water supply with a system of troughs located between the rails.

Flying Scotsman was retired in 1963 after driving 2,076,000 miles (3,340,998 kilometers). The locomotive has been restored and is owned by the National Railway Museum. It was overhauled and began testing in January 2016.

L.N.E.R. 4-6-2 Three Cylinder Express Passenger Locomotive, the Flying Scotsman. at the National Railway Museum.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

24 January 1932

Breguet Bre.330R2-01 F-AKEZ, flown by Paul Codos and Henri Robida flew from Paris to Hà Nội and back, January 1932. (Unattributed)
Breguet Bre.330R2 No.01, F-AKEZ, photographed in 1930. This airplane was flown by Paul Codos and Henri Robida from Paris to Hà Nội and back, January 1932. (Unattributed)
Henri Robida and Paul Codos. (Unattributed)
Henri Robida and Paul Codos. (Unattributed)

Completing a round trip flight from Paris to Hanoï, Indochine, and back to Paris, pilot Paul Joseph Codos and navigator Henri Robida flew the return leg in record time.

Departing Hanoi at 6:40 a.m., 20 January, the route of flight was Calcutta, Karachi, New Basra, Athens, Rome, Marseilles, and finally, Paris. The aviators laded at le Bourget at 3:55 a.m., 24 January.

The total elapsed time was 3 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes.¹ The distance traveled was 11,015 kilometers (6,844 miles).

Flight reported on their journey:

Last week we gave a brief account of the record-breaking flight accomplished by the French pilots Codos and Robida, when they flew from Hanoi, Indo-China, to Paris in 3 days 5 hours 40 minutes. We have now received some further details of this flight from our Paris Correspondent who writes as follows:— Leaving Hanoi at 6.40 o’clock on Thursday morning (local time) and taking advantage of the prevailing full-moon period, the airmen flew night and day, practically making stops of only sufficient time for refuelling and the examination of their passports and other papers. They thus established a new record, surpassing by 30 hours and 20 minutes the best previous time of 4 days and 12 hours made for this flight by Costes and Bellonte about two years ago. Codos declared, moreover, on his arrival that they could have gained several hours additional but for the strong head winds and rain that they encountered between Basra and Athens and further, if he could have flown directly from Athens to Paris, it would have shortened the time considerably. Owing, however to this bad weather and the necessity of taking off with a full load of fuel, Codos decided to make additional landings at Rome and Marseilles . . .

Both airmen are in the Air Union Air Line Company’s service, Codos being the Assistant Chief Pilot and Robida an engineer of that company. Enlisting in the artillery, at the age of 18, at the beginning of the world war, Paul Codos was transferred to the Aviation Service in 1917, and obtained his pilot’s brevet a year later, in 1918. At the close of hostilities he served as pilot with several air transport companies, and entered the service of the Air Union Company in 1924. He has made a specialty of night flying and piloted the initial trips between Paris and London in 1927. In company with Dieudonne Costes, Codos also took part in several long-distance closed-circuit continuous flights, about two years ago, in which world records were established. He is 35 years old and has 5,200 hours flying to his credit.

Paul Joseph Codos
Paul Joseph Codos (Photo André)

Henry Robida is an engineer pilot, in addition to being a licensed navigator. He is 30 years old and has 650 hours in the air to his credit.

With the exception of an additional fuel tank, the plane used on this flight, a “Breguet,” type 330, long-distance observation machine, was of strictly series construction. It was equipped with an Hispano-Suiza 650-h.p. 18-cylinder in-W.,² water-cooled engine of the well-known type used by Costes and Bellonte in their transatlantic flight.

The regular fuel tanks of the Breguet 330 are installed in the lower wings, and have a total capacity of 475 litres (105 gallons). The supplementary tank was installed in the fuselage between the motor and the pilot’s seat. It had a capacity of 1,400 litres (312 gallons). The plane thus had a flight radius of some 2,700 kilometres (1,700 miles) at a cruising speed of 180 km./hr. (122 m.p.h.) with the motor turning 1,640 r.p.m. The petrol consumption at cruising speed was 65 litres (14½ gallons) per 100 km. (62½ miles), with a flight radius of 15 hours.

The Breguet 330 is of the same type of construction as the well-known 270  . . .

The general characteristics of the Breguet type 330 are as follows:—

Span, upper wing, 17 m. (55 ft. 9 in.); lower wing, 17.5 m [sic] (24 ft. 6 in.). Overall length, 9.86 m. (32 ft. 4 in.). Height 3.69 m. (12 ft.) . . . .


FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, February 5, 1932, No. 1206. (Vol. XXIV. No. 6.) at Page 107.

The Breguet Bre.330 was a prototype high-altitude variant of the Breguet Bre.27. Two were built by la Société Anonyme des Ateliers d’Aviation Louis Breguet in 1930, F-AKEZ and F-AKFM. Bre.330 serial number 01, F-AKEZ, was the airplane flown by Codos and Robida. It was called a “sesquiplane” because the lower wing was approximately half the span of the upper.

The airplane was 9.85 meters (32 feet, 3¾ inches) long with an upper wingspan of 17.0 meters (55 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.5 meters (24 feet, 7¼ inches) and overall height of 3.69 meters (12 feet, 1¼ inch). Its empty weight was 1,866 kilograms (4,114 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight was 3,575 kilograms (7,882 pounds).

The airplane was powered by a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated 36.050 liter (2,199.892-cubic-inch-displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 12Nb single-overhead-cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 650 cheval-vapeur horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. The direct-drive V-12 turned a two-bladed metal propeller.

The Bre.330 had a cruise speed of 212 kilometers per hour (132 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 8,250 meters (27,067 feet). Maximum range was 2,700 kilometers (1,678 miles).

The Breguet 330 flown by Codos and Robida, January 1932. (FLIGHT, February 5, 1932, Page 107)
The Breguet 330 flown by Codos and Robida, January 1932. (FLIGHT, February 5, 1932, Page 107)

¹ L’EXPRESS DU MIDI, 41° ANNEE — Nº 14.200, Lundi 25 Janvier 1932, Page 1 at Columns 6 and 7. Many sources state that the Hanoi-to-Paris flight took 3 days, 4 hours, 17 minutes.

² Although the Flight article states that the Bre.330 was powered by a Hispano-Suiza W-18 engine, every other source that TDiA has found states that it was an H-S 12Nb V-12.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

25 November 1920

Lieutenant Corliss C. Moseley, United States Army Air Service (1894–1974)
1st Lieutenant Corliss Champion Moseley, Air Service, United States Army (Library of Congress)

25 November 1920: Lieutenant Corliss Champion Mosely, Air Service, United States Army, won the first Pulitzer Trophy Race flying an Engineering Division-designed-and-built Verville-Packard R-1, serial number A.S. 40126. The race, the first of a series, started at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. Turning points were at Henry J. Damm Field, near Babylon, and Lufberry Field at Wantagh. The total length of the race was approximately 132 miles (212 kilometers).

Lieutenant C.C. Moseley with the Verville-Packard R-1 at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York, 25 November 1920. (U.S. Air Force)

Weather was cold and cloudy, with a threat of snow. The New York Times reported that, “With the sun for the most part of the time concealed behind snow clouds, it was possible to watch the contest without suffering eye strain. . . .”

Still, more than 25,000 spectators watched the race at Mitchell Field, and several thousand more at each of the turns.

The race began at 11:30 a.m. The 34 entrants took off at intervals for spacing. They would race against the timer’s clock. The first to take off was Captain Harold E. Hartney, U.S. Army Air Service, flying a Thomas-Morse biplane.

Verville-Packard R-1, serial number A.S. 40126. (Wiggins-Fitz Collection)
Verville-Packard R-1, serial number A.S. 40126. (Wiggins-Fitz Collection)

Again, from the New York Times:

“The interest to the spectators seemed to centre in the much heralded Verville-Packard, which has been undergoing secret tests. . . This machine was the last to start. A cheer went up as the dark gray machine with lightning-like speed mounted into the air, its course being marked by a stream of smoke several hundred feet in length. For a few moments it was lost in the haze and then the powerful craft swooped again into view, crossed over the starting line headed for the Henry J. Damm Field.”

Of the 34 airplanes to start, 11 dropped out from mechanical trouble and 1 was disqualified.

Colonel Harold E. Hartney, USAAS (U.S. War Department General Staff)

Lt. Moseley’s airplane covered the first lap “in eleven minutes six and seventy one hundredths seconds.”  The Verville-Packard R-1 won the race with an elapsed time of 44 minutes, 29.57 seconds, for an average speed of 178 miles per hour. Captain Hartney finished second  with an elapsed time of 47:00.03.

The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote: “At last the pride of the Army air service, the Verville-Packard chasse biplane, has established its worth by romping ahead of thirty-four starters in the first Pulitzer trophy aeronautical race, held Thanksgiving day at Mitchel field, Mineola. . . Never in the history of official flying in America has a man traveled with such great velocity. . . .”

Albert Victor Verville

The Verville-Packard R-1 was developed from an experimental fighter, the Verville-Clark Pursuit (VCP-1), designed for the U.S. Army by Alfred Victor Verville, and was the first of a series racing airplanes built for the Army. A single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane, it had a plywood monocoque fuselage with wood wings and control surfaces covered with doped fabric. The ailerons were on the lower wing, only. The R-1 had an upper and lower wingspan of 23 feet, 0 inches (7.010 meters), with a total area of 222.7 square feet (20.7 square meters). Its gross weight was 3,394 pounds (1,539 kilograms).

In the original pursuit configuration, the VCP-1 was powered by a liquid-cooled Wright Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine producing 300 horsepower. The R-1 Racer substituted a Packard Motor Car Company 1A-2025 engine.

Verville-Packard R-1 (VCP-R) A.S. 40126 was damaged 20 August 1920 when it collided with an automobile on landing at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The 1A-2025 was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 2,025.444-cubic-inch-displacement (33.191 liter), 60° single overhead cam (SOHC) V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.08:1. The engine was rated at 540 brake horsepower (b.h.p.) at 1,800 r.p.m. at Sea Level, 379 horsepower at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and 299 horsepower at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The total dry weight of the Packard 1A-2025 was 1,142 pounds (518 kilograms).

The Verville-Packard R-1, A.S. 40126, flown by Major Rudolf W. Schroeder in the the Gordon Bennett Cup race, at Etampes, France, September 1920. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

During tests at Wright Field in 1922, the Verville-Packard R-1 reached a speed of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour). Two R-1 airplanes were built but the second, A.S. 40127, never flew.

This is the engine from Lt. Moseley's airplane. It is a Packard 1A-2025 60° SOHC V-12, serial number 10. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This is the engine from Lt. Moseley’s airplane, a Packard 1A-2025 60° SOHC V-12, serial number 10. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Corliss Champion Moseley

Corliss Champion Moseley was born at Boise, Idaho, 21 July 1894. He was the first of six children of David Henry Moseley, a farmer, and Clara Leigh Moseley. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, in Long Beach, California, and the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, from 1914 to 1917.

Moseley enlisted as a private in the Signal Corps, U.S. Army, 20 August 1917. Following his graduation from the School of Military Aeronautics at Berkeley, California, he was commissioned a 1st lieutenant, 29 May 1918.

Lieutenant Moseley was sent to France, and is credited with having shot down one enemy airplane. He was promoted to captain, 12 May 1919. Following World War I, the Air Service was reorganized and Moseley was appointed a 1st lieutenant, 1 July 1920. On 15 September 1924, Moseley was promoted to the rank of major. He was assigned as the first commanding officer of the 115th Observation Squadron based at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. This was the first aviation unit of the California National Guard.

Moseley left the military and in 1925, he founded Western Air Express at Los Angeles, which would become Western Airlines.

Corliss C. Moseley with the Western Air Express Sikorsky S-38, NC8021, Circa 1928. (Catalina Goose)

Moseley founded several aviation schools, including the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute at Glendale, California. During World War II, his schools trained tens of thousands of pilots and mechanics. Following World War II, Moseley founded the Grand Central Rocket Company, which became the Lockheed Propulsion Company.

Corliss Moseley married Viola Holmes at Dayton, Ohio, in 1923. They had four children, but divorced after 30 years of marriage. He then married Audrienne Langenham Harvey at Bernalillo, New Mexico, in 1953.

Corliss Champion Moseley died at his home in Beverly Hills, California, 17 June 1974, at the age of 79 years. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

17 November 1934

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.
Captain Frederick Cyrus Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.

17 November 1934: More than 50,000 spectators were present at Selfridge Field to see Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, win the Mitchell Trophy Race. Captain Nelson flew his Boeing P-26A over an 89-mile (143.2 kilometer) course at an average speed of 216.832 miles per hour (348.957 kilometers per hour).

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, with the Mitchell Trophy and the race-winning Boeing P-26, at Selfridge Field, 17 November 1934. (Selfridge Military Air Museum)

The Boeing P-26A was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was the first all-metal U.S. Army pursuit, but retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and its wings were braced with wire.

The P-26A was 23 feet, 7.25 inches (7.195 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11.6 inches (8.524 meters), and height of 10 feet, 0.38 inches (3.058 meters). Its empty weight was 2,197 pounds (997 kilograms) and gross weight was 2,955 pounds (1,340 kilograms).

A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-26A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 (Wasp SE) single-row 9-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. This engine had a Normal Power rating of 570 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard adjustable-pitch propeller. The R-1340-27 was 43.25 inches (1.099 meters) long, 51.50 inches (1.308 meters) in diameter, and weighed 715 pounds (324 kilograms).

The P-26A had a maximum speed of 234 miles per hour (377 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 27,400 feet (8,352 meters), and its maximum range was 635 miles (1,022 kilometers)

The pursuit (an early term for a fighter) was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber M1919 Browning machine guns. Boeing built 136 production P-26s for the Air Corps and another 12 for export. Nine P-26s remained in service with the Air Corps at the beginning of World War II.

A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in a NACA wind tunnel, 1934. This "Peashooter", while assigned to teh 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)
A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel (Building 643), 1934. This “Peashooter”, while assigned to the 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)

Frederick Cyrus Nelson was born at St. Paul, Minnesota, 17 March 1894. He was the third of four children of Frederick Carl Nelson, a compositor, and Hulda Josephine Holm Nelson. Both of his parents had immigrated to the United States from Scandinavia. Fred Nelson enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, 18 April 1917. He was trained as a pilot and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 28 January 1918. On 9 September 1920, this commission was vacated and Nelson was appointed a First Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

Lieutenant Nelson married Miss Jewell I. Moody at Pierce City, Missouri, 23 October 1921. They would have two children. His son, James Richard Nelson, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force.

Lieutenant Nelson was promoted to Captain, 1 January 1931, and to Major, 16 June 1936.

On 2 July 1938, while landing a Curtiss YC-30, 33-321, at Maxwell Field, Alabama, Major Nelson, 91SS, was involved in a collision with another aircraft. The YC-30 was damaged beyond repair.

Major Nelson graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in 1939. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Army of the United States, 16 November 1940, and was assigned as Commanding Officer of the Advanced Flying School, Moody Field, Georgia. Nelson was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 15 October 1942. He was assigned as the first Commanding Officer of the newly-established 29th Flying Training Wing, 26 December 1942.

From 9 December 1943 to 14 August 1946, Colonel Nelson was assigned to the Inspector General’s Department.

Following World War II, Colonel Nelson served as the first Commanding Officer of the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Washington.

Colonel Frederick Cyrus Nelson served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. He retired from the Air Force 3 September 1951 after 34 years of service, and died 11 April 1991 at the age of 97 years. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

4 September 1936

Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-SI-83-2088)

4 September 1936: Louise Thaden was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Wilcox Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835 (manufacturer’s 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. With one fuel stop at the Beech Aircraft Company factory in Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour), even though—against the advice of Walter Beech—they had maintained only 65% power for the entire race. They landed at 4:49.49 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (00:49, 5 September, UTC).

In addition to the trophy, Mrs. Thaden won a prize of $4,500 for first place, plus $2,500 for the fastest speed in the race set by a woman (unaccompanied by a man).

She was also awarded the Harmon Trophy.

Laura Ingalls, flying her Lockheed Orion 9D Special, NR14222, finished in second place, arriving 45 minutes after Thaden and Noyes, at 5:54.28 p.m.. William Warner finished in third place in a Vultee V-1A, and George Pomeroy was fourth flying a Douglas DC-2 transport. And in fifth place was Amelia Earhart and Helen Richey in Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10E Electra Special, NR16020.

Louise Thaden with the Bendix Trophy. (Tom Sande, AP)
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 was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, head sports for basketball 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.

Mrs Thaden set an FAI World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet) over Oakland, California, 7 December 1928.¹  On 17 March 1929, she set an FAI record for duration of 22 hours, 3 minutes.²

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.

Louise Thaden’s original 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.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden with her husband, Herbert von Thaden, in front of the Beech C17R Staggerwing, NR15385. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

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

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

Louise Thaden with her 1936 Vincent Bendix Trophy, circa 1975. (NASM)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C-17R NR15385 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C17R NR15835 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Beechcraft C17R was single-engine, single-bay biplane operated by a single pilot and could carry up to four 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).

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

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 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.

Beech Aircraft Corporation Model 17 “Staggerwings” under construction. (Beech B-111/U.S. Air Force)

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).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 (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 Beechcraft C17R flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy, serial number C17R-77, had already been sold to the government of the Republic of Honduras, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it for the race before delivering to the owner. It was painted in Sherwin Williams Consolidated Blue with white stripes. The rear passenger seats were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place.

After the race, the Staggerwing overhauled, repainted Insignia Blue with silver wings, and was flown to Central America by Paul E. Zimmerman. It was assigned to the  Escuela Militar de Aviacion.

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 owned by Thaden. Current FAA records indicate that the first, C17R-74, is currently registered N15835.

Beechcraft produced thirteen of the C17R variant.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12223

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes