Tag Archives: Lockheed Aircraft Company

22 July 1933

Wiley Hardeman Post, 1898–1935. (Underwood & Underwood)

22 July 1933: At 11:50½ p.m., Wiley Hardeman Post and his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York.

Post had departed from there on 15 July and in 7 days, 18 hours, 49½ minutes, he flew 15,596 miles (25,099.3 kilometers), circling the Northern Hemisphere. He made 11 stops for fuel and rest, and had one minor accident which required repairs to the airplane. (Note the Standard propeller clearly visible in the photograph below.)

In 1931, he had flown approximately the same route, with a navigator, Harold Gatty, aboard. For this flight Post was by himself.

This was the first solo around-the-world flight. Wiley Post was the first pilot to have flown around the world twice.

Wiley Post climbs out of the cockpit of his Lockheed Vega monoplane, Winnie Mae, after completing the first solo flight around the world at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, N.Y., midnight, July 22, 1933. Wiley set a new record with the distance of 15,596 miles, 25,099 kilometer, in 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes. (AP Photo)
“Wiley Post climbs out of the cockpit of his Lockheed Vega monoplane, Winnie Mae, after completing the first solo flight around the world at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, N.Y., midnight, July 22, 1933. Wiley set a new record with the distance of 15,596 miles, 25,099 kilometer, in 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes.” (AP Photo)

The Vega was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane was designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of spiral strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and held together with glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

The Winnie Mae was built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California in 1930 as a Model 5B Vega, serial number 122. It was purchased by an Oklahoma oil driller, Florence C. (“F.C.”) Hall, on 21 June 1930, and named for his daughter, Winnie Mae Hall, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma. The new airplane was painted white with purple trim. In 1932, NC105W was modified to the Vega 5C standard.

The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Winnie Mae was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 3088, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

An estimated 50,000 spectators greet Wiley Post on his return to Floyd Bennett Field, 22 July 1933. Post is visible jut behind the trailing edge of the Vega's left wing. (Unattributed)
An estimated 50,000 spectators greeted Wiley Post on his return to Floyd Bennett Field, 22 July 1933. Post is visible just behind the trailing edge of the Vega’s left elevator. (Unattributed)

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

Wiley Post flew the Winnie Mae for F.C. Hall, and flew it around the world in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator. Post used it to set several speed records and to compete in the National Air Races. Post purchased the airplane from Hall, 8 July 1931.

When the Vega and its Wasp engine had reached 745 hours of operation, they were  overhauled by Braniff Airways at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Wasp C was modified with cylinders from a Wasp C1. This increased the compression ratio from 5.25:1 to 6.0:1. Using 87-octane aviation gasoline, it could produce 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The airplane’s original two-bladed Standard fixed-pitch steel propeller was later replaced by a Smith 450-SI controllable-pitch propeller with Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt hollow steel blades.

Among other modifications, Post had the wing’s angle of incidence decreased 10° which increased the Vega’s speed by 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). The fixed tail skid was shortened to allow the airplane to reach a higher angle of attack for takeoff and landing. For the 1933 around-the-world flight, six auxiliary tanks were installed in the fuselage, giving the Vega a total fuel capacity of 645 gallons (2,442 liters). It was also equipped with a Sperry gyroscopic autopilot.

These modification required the Vega to be licensed in a restricted category, and it was re-registered NR105W.

After Wiley Post was killed in an airplane crash near Barrow, Alaska, 15 August 1935, his widow, Mae Laine Post, sold NR105W to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display in the Time and Navigation Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Wiley Post’s Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 July 1933

Wiley Post's Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, Winnie Mae, after a landing accident at Flat, Alaska. (Unattributed)
Wiley Post’s Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, Winnie Mae, after a landing accident at Flat, Alaska. (Unattributed)

20 July 1933: At 11:58 a.m. (17:58 UTC) on the fifth day of his solo around-the-world flight, Wiley Post took off from Khabarovsk, Siberia, heading toward Nome, Alaska, 2,416 miles (3,888 kilometers) to the east-northeast (great circle route).

A very tired Wiley Post photographed at Flat, Alaska, after Winnie Mae has been repaired. (University of Alaska image identifier UAF-1998-129-3)
A very tired Wiley Post photographed at Flat, Alaska, after Winnie Mae has been repaired. (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Post missed his destination and, exhausted, became lost. He flew over Alaska for approximately seven hours before sighting a remote U.S. Army Signal Corps radio station at Flat, Alaska, a small gold mining town located along the Iditarod Trail in southwestern Alaska.

Post landed his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, on a small landing field at the eastern edge of the town. The airplane’s wheels sank into the soft surface and Winnie Mae nosed over, damaging its propeller, engine cowling and right landing gear strut. Wiley Post was unhurt.

The International News Service (INS) reported:

“. . . Utter exhaustion which numbed his mind so that he could not properly pilot his course caused him to become lost for seven hours over Alaska yesterday after he had been in the air more than 22 hours on his 3,000-mile hop from Siberia to Alaska during which he battled the most adverse weather conditions, he revealed today.

“Sighting the Flat radio station caused him to land here. He said that he could at least get his directions again. He ran into soft ground on the landing field, nosing over, breaking his right wheel strut, damaging the engine cowling and valves and bending the propeller. Post was uninjured. . . .”

A replacement propeller was flown in from Fairbanks and repairs were made. He continued the following day, taking off at 7:28 a.m., local.

The “Winnie Mae”, Wiley Post’s Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, after nosing over at Flat, Alaska, 20 July 1933. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15–22 July 1933

Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)
Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)

15 July 1933: At 5:10 a.m., Wiley Hardeman Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York, on a solo around-the-world flight. His airplane was a Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, which he previously flown around the world in 1931 with navigator Harold Gatty.

On this flight, Post flew approximately the same route around the Northern Hemisphere, making 11 stops ¹ over a 15,596 mile (25,099.3 kilometer) flight. He returned to Floyd Bennett Field at 11:50½ p.m., 22 July 1933, after 7 days, 18 hours, 49½ minutes. Post’s total flight time was 115 hours, 36½ minutes. ²

This was the first solo around-the-world flight. Wiley Post was the first pilot to have flown around the world twice.

“With his touchdown at Floyd Bennett on this evening of July, 22, Wiley Post became the first person to circumnavigate the earth twice by aircraft. He was the first person to fly around the world alone, and he had done it with all possible speed. Post’s record remains unique. Fourteen years later in 1947 his record was ostensibly broken; but it was done under such radically different circumstances that the new record was really meaningless.” ³

Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World’s First Pressure Suit, by Stanley R. Mohler and Bobby H. Johnson, Smithsonian Annals of Flight Number 8, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1971, Chapter 3, at Page 65

Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)
Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)

The Vega was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane designed by John Knudsen Northrop and Gerard Freebairn Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of longitudinal strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and bonded together with cassein glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. They were built of spruce spars and ribs, covered with 3/32-inch (2.4 millimeters) spruce plywood.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

The Winnie Mae was built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California in 1930 as a Model 5B Vega, serial number 122. It was purchased by an Oklahoma oil driller, Florence C. (“F.C.”) Hall, on 21 June 1930, and named for his daughter, Winnie Mae Hall, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma. The new airplane was painted white with purple trim. In 1932, NC105W was modified to the Vega 5C standard.

The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet, 0 inches (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Winnie Mae was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 3088, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Wiley Post flew the Winnie Mae for F.C. Hall, and flew it around the world in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator. Post used it to set several speed records and to compete in the National Air Races. He purchased the airplane from Hall, 8 July 1931.

Winnie Mae was involved in an accident at Chickasha, Oklahoma, 21 April 1933. Flown by another pilot, the engine stopped on takeoff due to fuel starvation. It was found that gasoline had been stolen from the tanks by being siphoned. The damaged Vega was sent to Braniff Airways at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for repair and an extensive overhaul. One fuselage half was replaced, and the fuselage covered in balloon cloth. The cockpit was rebuilt, all new control cables installed, and the wing repaired and reinforced. The tail surfaces were recovered and the landing gear was sent to Lockheed to be rebuilt. The Wasp SC1 was completely overhauled modified with new cylinders which increased the compression ratio from 5.25:1 to 6.0:1. The carburetor was overhauled by Bendix-Stromberg, and new magnetos installed. Using 87-octane aviation gasoline, it could produce 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The airplane’s original two-bladed Standard fixed-pitch steel propeller was replaced by a Smith 450-SI controllable-pitch propeller with Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt hollow steel blades.

Among other modifications, Post had the wing’s angle of incidence decreased 10° which reduced aerodynamic drag and increased the Vega’s speed by 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). The fixed tail skid was shortened to allow the airplane to reach a higher angle of attack for takeoff and landing. For the 1933 around-the-world flight, six fuel tanks were installed in the fuselage and four in the wings, giving the Vega a total fuel capacity of 645 gallons (2,442 liters). It was also equipped with a Sperry gyroscopic autopilot.

These modifications required the Vega to be licensed in a restricted category, and it was re-registered NR105W.

After Wiley Post was killed in an airplane crash near Barrow, Alaska, 15 August 1935, his widow, Mae Laine Post, sold NR105W to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display in the Time and Navigation Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Wiley Post's Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, "Winnie Mae of Oklahoma", at the National Air and Space Museum.(Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Wiley Post’s Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

¹ Berlin, Germany; Königsberg, Germany (now, Kalingrad, Russia); Moscow, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; Novosibirsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R, ; Irkutsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R.; Rukhlovo, Siberia, U.S.S.R. (Skorvorodino); Khabarovsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R.; Flat, Territory of Alaska; Fairbanks, Territory of Alaska; Edmonton, Alberta, Dominion of Canada; New York City, New York, United States of America.

² The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Post’s flight was short of the required distance, so no official record was set.

³ Floyd Odom, Douglas A-26 Invader NX67834, 7–10 August 1947: Flight, “Just what he as proved is not clear. . . The late Wiley Post took come 187 hours to do the circuit. . . but that was fourteen years ago, in a Lockheed Vega with one 450 horsepower engine. Post had far less aid from navigational facilities, and almost only one piece of equipment common to the Winnie Mae and the Reynolds Bombshell is the automatic pilot, which in both cases enabled the human pilot to take occasional short snatches of sleep. Captain Odom’s engines had to run for 73 hours only, while Post’s kept going for 87. Pilot strain must have been approximately proportional to the length of time, so if human endurance is the criterion, Post’s was the greater achievement.”FLIGHT, Vol. 52, August 14, 1947, page 154

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10–14 July 1938

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (New York Public Library)
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., ca. 1937 (New York Public Library)

10–14 July 1938: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., along with a crew of four, departed Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, on a flight to circle the Northern Hemisphere. His airplane was a Lockheed Super Electra Special, Model 14-N2, registered NX18973. Aboard were Harry P. McLean Connor, co-pilot and navigator; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, United States Army Air Corps, navigator; Richard R. Stoddart, a field engineer for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), radio operator; Edward Lund, flight engineer. Lieutenant Thurlow was the Air Corps’ expert on aerial navigation. Stoddart was an expert in radio engineering. Thurlow, Stoddart and Lund were also rated pilots.

This photograph by aviation photographer Rudy Arnold shows the “nose art” of the Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, “New York World’s Fair 1939.” Lieutenant Herain Thurlow is “sighting in” the airplane’s navigation instruments prior to the around-the-world flight.(Rudy Arnold Collection, National Air and Space Museum)

Before they took off from Floyd Bennett Field, the Lockheed was christened New York World’s Fair 1939, in keeping with an agreement that Hughes had made with Grover Whalen and the fair’s organizers.

Howard Hughes' Lockheed Model 14-N@ Super Electra, starting its right engine at Floyd Bennett Field, approximately 7:00 p.m., 10 July 1938. (Unattributed)
Howard Hughes’ Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra starting its right engine at Floyd Bennett Field, 10 July 1938. (Unattributed)

Howard Hughes and his crew departed Floyd Bennett Field at 7:19:10 p.m. on 10 July. The route of the flight was from Floyd Bennett Field to Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, a distance of 3,641 miles (5,860 kilometers), flown in an elapsed time of 16 hours, 38 minutes; Moscow, Russia, USSR, 1,640 miles (2,639 kilometers), 7:51; Omsk, Siberia, 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers), 7:27; Yakutsk, Yakut ASSR, 2,158 miles (3,473 kilometers), 10:31; Fairbanks, Alaska, 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), 12:17; Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2,441 miles (3,928 kilometers), 12:02; and back to Floyd Bennett Field, 1,054 miles (1,696 kilometers) 4:26.

They arrived at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:34 p.m., 14 July. The distance flown was approximately 14,800 miles (23,818 kilometers) (sources differ). The total duration was 91 hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds. The actual flight time was 71 hours, 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Average speed for the flight was 206.1 miles per hour (331.7 kilometers per hour).

The flight crew of Horad Hughes around-the-world flight, left to right, Hughes,
The flight crew of Howard Hughes’ around-the-world flight, left to right: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., wearing a fedora and a white shirt; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, U.S. Army Air Corps; Harry P. McLean Connor; Richard R. Stoddart; and Edward Lund. Standing at the far left of the photograph is Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair 1939 Committee, who christened the airplane. (Tamara Thurlow Field via Air & Space Smithsonian)

The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Howard Hughes’ “around the world flight” circled the Northern Hemisphere and was at least 8,058 miles (12,968 kilometers) short of the required distance, so no official record was set. (The same is true of Wiley H. Post’s two earlier “around the world” flights which used a similar route.)

The Robert J. Collier Trophy. (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum)
The Robert J. Collier Trophy. (NASM)

The National Aeronautic Association awarded the Aero Club Trophy (after 1944, known as the Robert J. Collier Trophy, or simply, The Collier Trophy) to Howard Hughes and his associates, “For their epoch making round the world flight in 91 hours and 14 minutes.” The Collier is an annual award, “. . . for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”

The Lockheed Super Electra 14-N2, serial number 1419, was offered to Hughes by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, at no cost.

Company officials believed that publicity generated by an around-the-world flight would justify the expense. The airplane underwent modification for two months at the Burbank factory. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation provided new engines. Fuel capacity was increased to 1,844 gallons (6,980.3 liters). Three radio systems were installed.

The Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a medium-sized airliner. It was flown by two pilots and could carry up to 12 passengers. Based on aerodynamic studies carried out by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson on the earlier Model 10 Electra, the airplane was configured with an “H-tail”, with vertical fins and rudders placed at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer. This was a characteristic design feature for Lockheed aircraft through the 1950s.

Cutaway drawing of Howard Hughes' Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, NX18973. (New York Public Library)
Cutaway drawing of Howard Hughes’ Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, NX18973. (New York Public Library)

The Model 14 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). Hughes’ Model 14-N2 Special differed, but a Model 14-WF-62 airliner version had an empty weight of 10,750 pounds (4,876 kilograms), gross weight of 15,650 pounds (7,098 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms). The airliner had maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters).

NX18973 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone GR-1820-G102 nine-cylinder radial engines with a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m for take-off.  The engines had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 91-octane gasoline. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820-102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).

Lockheed Moedl 14-N2 Super Electra NX18973, New York World's Fair 1939, arrives at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island New York, 14 July 1938. (Associated Press)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra NX18973, “New York World’s Fair 1939,” arrives at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York, 2:34 p.m., 14 July 1938. (Associated Press)

Representative performance figures are maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters). NX19783 had an estimated maximum range of 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers).

Following Hughes’ flight, NX18973 was returned to Lockheed. The manufacturer then sold the Super Electra to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was assigned fuselage identification AX688. (A militarized version of the Super Electra was produced as the Hudson light bomber.)

On 10 November 1940, the Super Electra took off from Nairobi, Kenya, on a transcontinental ferry flight to from South Africa to Egypt. There were high winds and it was raining. After climbing to 500 feet (152 meters) AGL, the Lockheed banked to the left. It stalled, entered a spin and crashed. The wreck caught fire. All persons on board were killed.

Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/1419, NX18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/n 1419, NC18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra NC18973 at Alameda, California, 1940. (Bill Larkins/Wikipedia)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11–12 July 1999

Amundsen Scott South Pole Station

11–12 July 1999: Jerri Lin Nielsen, M.D., a physician at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, self-biopsied a suspicious breast lump. Results were inconclusive, so the National Science Foundation decided to send additional test equipment and medications to the remote station by military transport.

Brigadier General John I. Pray, Jr., United States Air Force.
Brigadier General John I. Pray, Jr., United States Air Force.

Because of the extreme cold, adverse weather conditions and months of darkness, it was considered too dangerous for an aircraft to attempt landing at the South Pole. A United States Air Force Lockheed C-141B Starlifter of the 62nd Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Washington, was sent to stage out of Christchurch, New Zealand, in order to air drop the supplies at the South Pole. The mission was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John I. Pray, Jr., U.S. Air Force.

Departing Christchurch at 2154 UTC, 11 July, with six pallets of medical supplies and equipment as well as fresh food and mail for the remote outpost, the C-141 was joined for the flight by a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii National Guard, for inflight refueling. A refueling took place over McMurdo Station and then the Starlifter headed on toward the Pole.

A Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker prepares to refuel a Lockheed C-141B Starlifter. (Richard Seaman)

Amundsen-Scott station personnel set fire to 27 smudge pots arranged in a semi-circle to mark the drop zone, and turned off all outside lighting. When the transport arrived overhead, blowing snow obscured the drop zone and it took the aircrew, flying with night vision goggles, 25 minutes to locate the markers.

The first of six pallets of medical supplies airdropped by the U.S. Air force at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, 11 July 1999. (National Science Foundation)
The first of six pallets of medical supplies airdropped by the U.S. Air Force at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, 11 July 1999. (National Science Foundation)

At 2230 the C-141 flew over at an altitude of 700 feet (213.4 meters) and dropped two cargo pallets on the first pass and the remaining four on a second. It immediately departed to rendezvous with the KC-135 tanker and both returned to New Zealand.

After a 6,375 mile (10,260 kilometer) round trip, the C-141 touched down at Christchurch at 1225 UTC, 12 July.

Dr. Nielsen’s lump was cancerous. Using the medical supplies that had been air-dropped, she treated herself for the next three months. She was evacuated by air when a Lockheed LC-130H Hercules from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard, picked her up 16 October 1999.

Dr. Nielsen’s cancer eventually metastasized to her liver, bones and brain. Jerri Lin FitzGerald, M.D., died 23 June 2009 at her home in Southwick, Massachusetts.

Her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said, “She fought bravely, she was able to make the best of what life and circumstance gave her, and she had the most resilience I have ever seen in anyone. She fought hard and she fought valiantly.”

Dr. Jerri Lin Nielsen, 1 March 1952–23 June 2009. (National Science Foundation)
Dr. Jerri Lin Nielsen, 1 March 1952–23 June 2009. (National Science Foundation)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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