23 May 1937: Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, her husband, George Palmer Putnam, and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKinney, arrive at Miami, Florida, aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020. This completed the fourth leg of her second attempt to fly around the world.
“. . . on Sunday morning, May 23, headed on southeastward for Miami. From New Orleans we laid a straight course across the north-easterly “corner” of the Gulf of Mexico to Tampa, a matter of about 400 miles. It was Bo’s first considerable over-water flying and I am not sure he was very enthusiastic about it. That Sunday afternoon we reached Miami, and dug in for a week of final preparation, with the generous aid of Pan American personnel.”
22 May 1937: Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020 was repaired at Tucson, Arizona after its left engine, a Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial, caught fire while restarting after a fuel stop the previous day. Amelia Earhart and her Navigator, Fred Noonan, and two passengers, flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, on the 22nd.
Although she was actually on the third leg of her second around-the-world-flight attempt, no public announcement had yet been made.
The United Press reported:
AMELIA ‘JUST FLYING ANYWHERE,’ SHE SAYS
(United Press by Radio)
TUCSON, Ariz., May 22—Amelia Earhart Putnam took off for El Paso, Tex., today in her newly repaired Lockheed Electra plane.
She said she was “just flying anywhere to check the plane and see that everything is working properly.”
“It’s just like new now,” she asserted. “I’d like to put at least 50 hours flying time on it before the big flight.”
The “big flight” will be her second attempt to fly around the world along an equatorial route. She hopes to take off soon after June 1, weather permitting, with Honolulu her firsst stop.
Her plane was smashed at Luke Field in her first attempt.
“The next morning at Tucson a dense sandstorm blocked our way, but despite it we took off, leap-frogging at 8,000 feet over El Paso with a seemingly solid mass of sand billowing below us like a turbulent yellow sea. That night we reached New Orleans. . . .” — Amelia Earhart
21 May 1937: Day 2 of Amelia Earhart’s second attempt to fly around the world aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, fly from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, to Tucson, Arizona, where they stopped to refuel. Earhart’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKneely were also aboard. ¹
When Earhart attempted to restart the left engine at Tucson, it caught fire. An unplanned overnight stay was required while the damage was repaired.
“Accompanying me on this hop across the continent was Fred Noonan. “Bo” McKneely my mechanic, and Mr. Putnam. A leisurely afternoon’s flight ended at Tucson, Arizona. The weather was sailing hot as Arizona can be in summertime. After landing and checking in, when I started my motors again to taxi to the filling pit the left one back-fired and burst into flames. For a few seconds it was nip-and-tuck whether the fire would get away from us. There weren’t adequate extinguishers ready on the ground but fortunately the Lux apparatus built in the engine killed the fire. The damage was trivial, mostly some pungently cooked rubber fittings a deal of dirty grime. The engine required a good cleaning and the ship a face-washing.” —Amelia Earhart
¹ Although the standard Lockheed Electra 10E was certified to carry up to 10 passengers, the Restricted certification of NR16020 limited it to, “Only bona fide members of the crew to be carried.” The presence of Putnam and McKneely violated this restriction.
18 May 1966: Sheila Scott (née Sheila Christine Hopkins) departed London Heathrow Airport, London, England, on the first solo around-the-world flight by a British subject, the longest-distance solo flight, and only the third around-the-world flight by a woman. Her airplane was a 1966 Piper PA-24-260 Comanche B, registration G-ATOY, which she had named Myth Too.
Departed London, England 18 May 1966
Mount Isa, Australia
Auckland, New Zealand
Pago Pago, Samoa
San Francisco, CA
El Paso, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
New York, NY
Arrived London, England 20 June 1966
The flight covered approximately 28,658 miles (46,121 kilometers) and took 189 actual flight hours over 33 days.
During her around-the-world flight, Shiela Scott set ten Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Recognised Course: London to Rome, 258.13 kilometers per hour(160.40 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Numbers 4679, 4680); London to Auckland, 41.42 km/h (25.74 mph) #4660, 4661; London to Darwin, 45.67 km/h (28.38 mph) #4666, 4670; London to Fiji Islands, 34.60 km/h (21.50 mph) #4672; 4673; Lisbon to London, 244.00 km/h (151.62 mph) #4956, 4657.
For her accomplishments, Ms. Scott was awarded the Silver Medal of the Guild of Pilots; the Brabazon of Tara Award for 1965, 1966 and 1967; the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 1968; and the Harmon International Trophy for 1966 and 1970.
Italy gave her the title, Isabella d’Este. Sheila Scott was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Years Honours List, 1 January 1968.
Sheila Scott flew around the world twice in Myth Too, and a third time in a twin-engine Piper Aztec, Mythre. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale data base lists 75 records for speed over a recognized course set by Ms. Scott. 31 of these remain current.
In a 1969 interview, Ms. Scott said:
“. . . This must be why I enjoy being in the air alone. But in fact I never feel alone in the air because one has to work so hard and experience such extremes of emotion. The senses, for example, are all highly intensified. The sense of sight. . .when you look down, a pale pink becomes a deep rose; the seas really do look as though they have turquoise gashes in them. . . The sense of smell: . . .up there you can smell everything individually. The people of each country soon learned this on my world flight. It started at Damascus where they filled the plane full of jasmine. . . .”
—The Guardian, Saturday, 22 October 1988, Page 39 at Columns 2 and 3
Sheila Christine Hopkins was born 27 April 1922 ¹ at 12 Park Avenue, Worcester, Worcestershire, England. She was the daughter of Harold Reginald Hopkins and Edyth Mary Kenward Hopkins.
Miss Hopkins married Rupert Leamon Bellamy at Kensington, in late 1945. The marriage was dissolved in 1950.
Sheila Scott had been a nurse at Haslar Naval Hospital during World War II. She was an actress on the stage, in films and on television. In 1959 she followed a lifetime ambition and learned to fly. She owned or leased several airplanes which she entered in races or used to establish flight records.
Scott was a commercial pilot, rated in single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. She was a member of The Ninety-Nines, founding and serving as governor of the British branch. She was also a member of the Whirly-Girls and the International Association of Licensed Women Pilots.
Sheila Scott was the author of I Must Fly and On Top of the World (Barefoot With Wings in the United States).
Sheila Scott, O.B.E., died of cancer at Royal Marsden Hospital, Chelsea, London, 20 October 1988, at the age of 66 years. ¹
Myth Too was built by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1966 and was registered N8893P. It was a PA-24-260B Comanche, an all-metal 4–6 place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It is flown by a single pilot and can carry three passengers, though an additional two seats can be mounted at the rear of the passenger cabin.
The airplane is 25 feet, 3-7/16 inches (7.707 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 11-¾ inches (10.967 meters) with an overall height of 7 feet, 5-11/16 inches (2.278 meters). Empty weight is 1,728 pounds (783.8 kilograms) and maximum gross weight is 3,100 pounds (1,406.1 kilograms).
The Comanche B is powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected 541.511-cubic-inch-displacement (8.874 liter) Lycoming IO-540-D4A5 6-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) horizontally-opposed engine with a compression ration of 8.5:1, rated at 260 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., driving a two-bladed Hartzell constant speed propeller through direct drive. The IO-540-D4A5 weighs 384 pounds (174 kilograms).
Cruise speed is 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The range is 1,225 miles (1,971.5 kilometers) and the service ceiling is 19,500 feet (5,943.6 meters).
Sheila Scott sold G-ATOY in 1975. It was substantially damaged 6 March 1979 when the engine lost oil pressure then seized after taking off from Elstree Aerodrome, Hertfordshire (EGTR). There were no injuries. The wreck is in the collection of the Scottish National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian, Scotland.
At 1:00 p.m., 17 March 1964, Joan Merriam Smith departed Oakland International Airport, on California’s San Francisco Bay, on what would be the first leg of an around-the world flight. Her first stop would be Tucson, Arizona, approximately 650 nautical miles (1,200 kilometers) to the east-southeast.
Mrs. Smith intended to follow the easterly route of Amelia Earhart, who had departed from Oakland on both of her attempts at the around-the-world flight. The first try, 17 March 1937, was a westerly route, with a first stop at Hawaii. The second try, 2 June 1937, was an eastbound route.
The two routes were planned to take advantage of seasonal weather patterns.
Mrs. Smith wanted to follow Earhart’s eastbound route, but by leaving in mid-March, she put herself at a disadvantage with respect to the weather she would encounter as she traveled around the Earth.
Unlike Earhart, who had two of the world’s foremost navigators in her flight crew, Mrs. Smith would fly alone, her only companion a small teddy bear. She would navigate by pilotage and ded reckoning, and by using radio aids such as non-directional beacons (NDBs) and VHF omnidirectional ranges (VORs).
Forecast adverse weather caused her to leave Tucson for her next stop, New Orleans, Louisiana, at 2:00 a.m., 18 March. Dodging the weather, she was forced to make an intermediate fuel stop at Lubbock, Texas. She finally arrived in New Orleans at 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. After another early morning start, she flew on to Miami, Florida, on 19 March.
A detailed story of Joan Merriam Smith’s flight is told in Fate on a Folded Wing, written by Tiffany Ann Brown.¹ Her route followed Earhart’s eastward across the United States; south over the Caribbean Sea to South America; then across the South Atlantic Ocean; Africa, Asia, and finally, to the Pacific Ocean, where Mrs. Smith’s route diverged from Earhart’s.
Smith’s itinerary: Across the United States from Oakland, California, to Tucson, Arizona; Lubbock, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida. Then over the Caribbean Sea to San Juan, Paramaribo, Natal; east across the South Atlantic to Dakar, Gao, Fort-Lamy, Al-Fashir, Khartoum, Aden. From Africa, Smith headed into South Asia: Karachi, Calcutta, Akyab, Rangoon; and then Southeast Asia: Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Surabaya, Kupang; Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia; and Lae, New Guinea. From here, Smith deviated from Earhart’s route across the Pacific Ocean by flying to Guam instead of Howland Island; then Wake Island; Midway Island; Honolulu, Hawaii; and, finally Oakland.
Mrs. Smith’s flight was troubled by adverse weather, leaking fuel tanks, out-of-calibration radio equipment, a recalcitrant autopilot, problems with the hydraulic and electrical systems, and a heater that would not work. And weather. . .
She arrived back at Oakland International at 9:12 a.m., on 12 May 1964, having flown approximately 27,750 miles (44,659 kilometers). The total duration of her journey was 55 days, 20 hours, 12 minutes. She had flown 35 legs on 23 days. Mrs. Smith wrote that the circumnavigation had taken a total of 170 flight hours, with 47 hours on instruments and 26 hours of night time.
Joan Merriam Smith is credited with having made the first solo circumnavigation of the Earth by the Equatorial route, and the longest solo flight.
The airplane flown by Joan Merriam Smith was a Piper PA-23-160 Apache E, serial number 23-1196, U.S. registration N3251P, which she had named City of Long Beach. The red and white airplane was manufactured by the Piper Aircraft Corporation at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in 1958. It had been purchased by the State of Illinois Department of Aeronautics to use checking state-owned aeronautical facilities. When the the state acquired a faster aircraft, the Apache was sold in November 1963. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a registration certificate to Mrs. Smith on 30 December 1963.
The Piper PA-23-160 Apache E was a 4-place, twin-engine, light airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 2,230 pounds (1,011.5 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 3,800 pounds (1,723.7 kilograms).
The Apache E was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-B horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The O-320-B is a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine, rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The O-320-B is 2 feet, 5.56 inches (0.751 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.24 inches (0.819 meters) wide and 1 foot, 10.99 inches (0.584 meters) high. It weighs 278 pounds (126.1 kilograms). The engines turned two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers.
N3251P’s engines were modified with Rajay Co., Inc., Turbo 200 turbochargers.
The PA-23-160 had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 159 knots (183 miles per hour/295 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).
During a flight from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Long Beach, 9 January 1965, the cabin heater in the nose of the Apache caught fire. With the cabin filled with smoke and gasoline fumes, and unable to reach any airport, Mrs. Smith crash-landed the airplane in rocky terrain in the Ord Mountains, southeast of Barstow in the high desert of southern California. After it has slid to a stop, N3251P continued to burn and was largely destroyed. Mrs. Smith and her passenger, Willam Harry Eytchison, were slightly injured.
At the time of the accident, N3251P had just under 3,000 hours total time on the airframe (TTAF), and less than 400 hours on new engines (TSN).
Joan Ann Merriam was born 3 August 1936 at Oceanside, Long Island, New York, U.S.A. She was the daughter of Arthur Ray Merriam, Jr., a railroad office stenographer, and Ann Marie Lofgren Merriam. The family relocated to Wayne, Michigan, where Joan attended Jefferson Junior High School and Wayne High School.
Joan’s father died at the age of 43, New Year’s Day, 1952. She and her mother then moved to Miami, Florida. Flying from Detroit to Miami aboard a Lockheed Constellation, Joan was allowed to visit the flight deck and speak to the crew.
The airline flight sparked an interest in aviation. She began taking lessons at the age of 15. Joan learned to fly at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute, then located at at Tamiami Airport. She first soloed an airplane at the age of 16 years. On 7 November 1953, shortly after her 17th birthday, she was issued private pilot certificate. Special permission was obtained from the FAA for her to take the written exams for commercial pilot before she turned 18.
Joan graduated from Miami Senior High School in 1954.
Mrs. Merriam gave Joan a Cessna 140, a single-engine light airplane, making her one of the youngest people in the United States to own an airplane. Joan said that her mother was “the bravest passenger,” as she practiced all of the maneuvers required for a commercial pilot’s license. By the time she was 18, she earned a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating, and a flight instructor certificate. She began instructing at Tamiami. She flew charters from Florida to Texas, living in that state before moving to Panama City, Florida. On her twenty-third birthday, the earliest that she was eligible, Miss Merriam was issued an airline transport pilot certificate (ATP) by the FAA. She had flown nearly 5,000 hours.
Miss Merriam would later own a Piper Cub modified for aerobatics, a second Cessna 140, and a Cessna 172.
In the fall of 1955, Miss Merriam married Harold MacDonald, a student in aeronautical engineering. She worked as a flight instructor for Avex, Inc., at Tamiami Airport. Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald soon divorced.
In 1960, Miss Merriam was living in Panama City, Florida, where she was employed as a pilot for West Florida Natural Gas Company, one of very few women who flew as corporate pilots at the time. (Contemporary newspapers reported that she was “one of three women corporation pilots in the country.”) Reflecting the sexist attitudes of the time, news features often described her as a “blue-eyed platinum blonde,” and made mention of “her personal aerodynamic attributes.” In an interview, Miss Merriam said that a major reason preventing more women from executive flying were, “executive’s wives, and executive’s secretaries.”
She had met Lieutenant (j.g.) Marvin G. (“Jack”) Smith, Jr., U.S. Navy, in 1958. Lieutenant Smith was executive officer of USS Vital (MSO-474), an Agile-class minesweeper homeported at Panama City. She moved to San Leandro, California, and worked as a contract instrument flight instructor at Oakland International Airport for the Sixth United States Army, which was then based at the Presidio of San Francisco.
Miss Merriam and Lieutenant Smith were married at Monterey, California, 23 September 1960. The couple later moved to Long Beach, where Lieutenant Commander Smith’s next ship, USS Endurance (AM-435), was homeported.
In February 1965, Joan Merriam Smith was flying for Rajay Industries out of Long Beach, California. (Rajay was a turbocharger manufacturer which had supplied the turbos for Mrs. Smith’s Apache.) She had been conducting functional and reliability tests on a modified Cessna 182C Skylane, N8784T. The airplane was owned by the V. E. Kuster Co., of Long Beach, a supplier of oil field equipment.
The flight test plan for 17 February 1965 called for the Cessna to be flown at altitudes between 5,000 and 23,000 feet (1,524–7,010 meters). Mrs. Smith was flying. Also on board was her biographer, Beatrice Ann (“Trixie”) Schubert.
Smith was flying across the San Gabriel Mountains, which divide southern California’s coastal plain from the high desert. The highest peak in the range, Mount San Antonio, which was not far east of her course, rises to 10,046 feet (3,062 meters).
Witnesses said that the airplane had been flying normally, estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000 feet (305–610 meters) above the mountainous terrain, when the right wing folded back along the fuselage. The airplane, with the engine revving, went into a dive and crashed into the north slope of Blue Ridge, a few miles west of Wrightwood, California, 10–12 seconds later. There was an explosion and fire.
Joan Merriam Smith and Trixie Ann Schubert were killed.
Investigators found that both wings had failed outboard of the struts. The outer wing panels, both ailerons and the left elevator were located approximately 1½ miles (2½ kilometers) from the point of impact. Examination showed that the aircraft had suffered severe loads. “There was no evidence of fatigue or failure of the aircraft before the inflight structural failure.”
The Civil Aeronautics Board reported the Probable Cause: “The pilot entered an area of light to moderate turbulence at high speed, during which aerodynamic forces exceeding the structural strength of the aircraft caused in-flight structural failure.” According to the CAB, the Cessna 182 had an airspeed in excess of 190 miles per hour (306 kilometers per hour) when it entered the area of turbulence.
Her remains were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Cypress, California.
For her accomplishment, Joan Merriam Smith was posthumously awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy for 1965. At a ceremony held in the Indian Treaty Room of the Executive Office Building, 15 December 1965, the trophy was presented to her husband, Lieutenant Commander Marvin G. Smith, Jr., by Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Mrs. Smith had intended to attempt an altitude record with the turbocharged Skylane. On 20 July 1965, her husband, Marvin G. Smith, set the record at 10,689.6 meters (35,070.9 feet), flying a Cessna 210A Centurion with an IO-470 engine.²
TDiA would like to thank Ms. Tiffany Ann Brown for suggesting this subject, and for her invaluable contribution.
¹ Fate on a Folded Wing: The True Story of Pioneering Solo Pilot Joan Merriam Smith, by Tiffany Ann Brown. Lucky Bat Books, 2019.
² FAI Record File Number 9977 (Class C, Sub-Class C1c: powered airplanes, takeoff weight 1000 to 1750 kg).