8 June 1937: Leg 11. After landing at Saint-Louis, French West Africa, the previous evening, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan reposition the Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, to Dakar, their intended destination. They lay over until 10 June for rest and maintenance on the airplane.
“On the morning of June 8 we flew the 163 miles from St. Louis. The chief reason I decided to lay over a day at Dakar instead of proceeding east was because my fuelmeter gave out two hours after we left Natal. The very efficient chief mechanic at Dakar discovered that a piece of the shaft was broken. While he worked on that – a difficult job to manage from a blueprint printed in English, which he did not understand, in an aeroplane he did not know – I had a forty-hour check of the engines, probably all they would need until we reached Karachi.” —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.
Leg 1: After her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, was repaired by Lockheed following a takeoff accident at Wheeler Field, Oahu, in March, Amelia Earhart repositioned it to Oakland Municipal Airport to begin her second attempt to fly around the world. Because of changing weather patterns since the earlier attempt, this time her route will be eastward.
On 20 May 1937, without any public notice, Earhart and her navigator, Captain Frederick J. Noonan, left Oakland, California, on the first leg of the trip: 283 nautical miles (325 miles (523 kilometers) to Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport—BUR), where the airplane was manufactured and repaired. They arrived at about 6:00 p.m. and remained there over night.
“The rebuilt Electra came out of the Lockheed plant on May 19. Two days later we flew it to Oakland. . . As that time we had made no announcement of my decision to reverse the direction of the flight. It seemed sensible to slip away as quietly as we could. While I was actually heading for Miami, with hope of keeping on from there eastward, technically the journey from Burbank across the country was a shake-down flight. If difficulties developed we would bring the ship back to the Lockheed plant for further adjustments.” —Amelia Earhart
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).
1–3 May 1976: Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747SP–21 Clipper Liberty Bell, N533PA, departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on a record-setting around the world flight. Under the command of Captain Walter H. Mullikan, the airline’s chief pilot, the flight crew included co-pilots Albert A. Frink, Lyman G. Watt, and flight engineers Frank Cassaniti and Edwards Shields. The airliner carried 98 passengers. The flight set a new speed record for a flight around the world, eastbound, and three speed records for commercial airline routes.
Clipper Liberty Bell flew eastward from New York JFK to Indira Ghandi International Airport (DEL), New Delhi, India, a distance of 8,081 miles (13,005.1 kilometers), at an average speed of 869.63 kilometers per hour (540.363 miles per hour).¹ After servicing the 747, it continued on its journey. The next destination was Tokyo International Airport (HND), Tokyo, Japan. This stage covered 7,539 miles (12,132.8 kilometers). The airliner’s average speed was 421.20 kilometers per hour (261.722 miles per hour).² Striking Pan Am workers at Tokyo delayed preparing the airliner for the next leg of the journey. After refueling, the Pan American flight continued on to its starting point, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York. This final leg was 7,517 miles (12,097.4 kilometers). The average speed was 912.50 kilometers per hour (567.001 miles per hour).³
The total duration of the flight was 46 hours, 1 second. The actual flight time was 39 hours, 25 minutes, 53 seconds. Total distance flown was 23,137 miles (37,235.4 kilometers). The average speed for the entire flight was 809.24 kilometers per hour (502.838 miles per hour).⁴
Clipper Liberty Bell had been christened in a ceremony at Indianapolis on 30 April 1976 by Betty Ford, First Lady of the United States of America.
In 1977, Captain Mullikin flew the same 747SP on another circumnavigation, 29–31 October 1977, but this time it crossed both the North and South Poles. Renamed Clipper New Horizons, 21025 set 7 world records on that flight, with a total flight time of 54 hours, 7 minutes, 12 seconds. This trip was called “Flight 50.”
The Boeing 747SP (“Special Performance”) is a very long range variant of the 747–100 series airliners. The airplane is 48 feet, 5 inches (14.757 meters) shorter than the –100, the vertical fin is 5 feet (1.5 meters) taller and the span of horizontal stabilizer has been increased. The weight savings allows it to carry more fuel for longer flights, and it is also faster. The maximum number of passengers that could be carried was 400, with a maximum of 45 on the upper deck. Boeing built 45 747SPs.
The 747SP is 184 feet, 9 inches (56.312 meters) long, with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters). It has an overall height of 65 feet, 1 inch, at maximum gross weight and 65 feet, 10 inches (19.837–20.066 meters), empty. It has an operating empty weight of 337,100 pounds (152,906 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight of 700,000 pounds (317,515 kilograms).
The 747SP could be ordered with Pratt & Whitney JT9D- or Rolls-Royce RB211-series engines. These engines had a range of thrust of 43,500–51,980 pounds (193.50–231.22 kilonewtons) for takeoff (5-minute limit), and resulted in variations of the airliner’s empty weight and fuel capacity.
The airliner had a design cruising speed (VC) of 0.86 Mach, and a maximum operating speed (VMO/MMO) of 375 knots KEAS, or 0.92 Mach. The service ceiling is 45,100 feet (13,746 meters) and the design range is 5,830 nautical miles (6,709 statute miles/10,797 kilometers). The fuel capacity is 48,780 U.S. gallons (184,652 liters), and it carries 600 gallons (2,271 liters) of water for engine injection.
The record-setting Boeing 747SP-21, serial number 21025, was the fourth Special Performance 747 built, and one of 10 that had been ordered by Pan American World Airways. It first flew 8 October 1975, in Boeing’s corporate paint scheme. It was then retained for use in the test fleet. When flight testing was completed, the airliner was refurbished and repainted in the Pan Am livery. It was delivered to the airline 5 March 1976 and registered N533PA.
While in the Pan Am fleet, N533PA also carried the names Clipper New Horizons, Clipper Young America and Clipper San Francisco.
Pan American sold its fleet of Boeing 747SPs to United Airlines in 1986. 21025 was re-registered N143UA to reflect its new ownership. Twenty years after its first flight, 21025 was removed from service in 1995 and placed in storage at Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was scrapped in December 1997. The airliner had accumulated 78,941 total flight hours on its airframe (TTAF) with 10,733 cycles.