Tag Archives: Louise Thaden

4 September 1936

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (NASM)

4 September 1936: Louise Thaden was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, 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 Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour).

In addition to the trophy, Mrs. Thaden won a prize of $2,500.

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)

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records.

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

The Beech 17 was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 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 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.

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) 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).

This engine gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and its range was 800 miles (1,287.5 kilometers).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 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 77, had already been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it for the race before delivering to the owner. It was painted in Sherwin Williams 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 owner took his airplane to South America. Several Staggerwings have been registered as N15835, including s/n 74 and s/n 81. The status of the actual Bendix winner is unknown.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12223

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 July 1936

Louise Thaden with the Porterfield Model 35-W. (FAI)

12 July 1936: Louise Thaden set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers with an average speed of 176.35 kilometers per hour (109.58 miles per hour.)¹ She flew a Porterfield Model 35-W Flyabout over a course at Endless Caverns, near New Market, Virginia.

Less than two months later, 4 September 1936, Mrs. Thaden became he first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy (NASM)

She was awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy for 1936.

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 Wilbur Wright, 16 May 1928. In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

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.

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 flew this Porterfield Model 35-W to set a World Record for Speed, 12 July 1936. (FAI)

The Porterfield Model 35-W was based on the prototype Wyandotte Pup, which had been designed by Noel Ross Hockaday. The airplane was built by students of the aviation club of Wyandotte High School, Kansas City, Kansas.

Noel Hackaday’s Wyandotte Pup, NX12546, circa 1932. The children are identified as Leland and Milton House. (Guy F. House, via Keith House)

Hockaday had previously been a designer for the American Eagle Aircraft Corporation and had designed that company’s Eaglet high-wing monoplane. Edward Everette Porterfield, Jr., the founder of American Eagle, was present when the Wyandotte Pup made its first flight. He bought the airplane and its production rights. American Eagle had gone out of business during the early years of The Depression, and a new company, Porterfield Aircraft Corporation, was formed to manufacture the airplane as the Porterfield Model 35.

The Porterfield Model 35 Flyabout was produced in several variants, and was available with LeBlond, Velle, Warner or Continental engines. It was was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane, which carried a pilot and one passenger in tandem in an enclosed cabin. The airplane had fixed landing gear with a tail skid. The fuselage was a welded tube structure, while the wing was built around two spruce spars, with spruce and plywood ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric. A distinctive feature of the Porterfield series are the parallel wing struts. (Most similar aircraft have their struts arranged in a “V”.)

Porterfield Model 35-70 Flyabout, NC 20700, powered by a LeBlond radial engine. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Porterfield Model 35-W was 22 feet, 1 inch (6.731 meters) long, with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters), and height of 6 feet, 7 inches (2.007 meters). The main wheel tread was 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters). Maximum payload was 501 pounds (227.25 kilograms).

A 1936 Porterfield Model 35-W, NC16401, serial number 301. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Model 35-W was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 301.458-cubic-inch-displacement (4.940 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab Junior. This was a 5-cylinder radial engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.2:1. The Scarab Junior was rated at 90 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff (five-minute limit). The engine was 1 foot, 2 inches (0.356 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.5 inches (0.927 meters) in diameter, and weighed 237 pounds (107.5 kilograms). The engine was covered by a Townend Ring.

The 35-W had a cruise speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). Its range was 340 miles (547 kilometers).

Porterfield Aircraft Corporation built approximately 240 Model 35s. Twenty-five of these were the Model 35-W.

Noel Ross Hockaday was born 24 May 1905 in Kinmundy, Illinois. He was the first of two children of Jake Fred Hockaday, a farmer, and Mary Kathryn Sills Hockaday. He married to Ruby I. Kelley at Los Angeles, 31 March 1937..

In addition to the Eaglet and Pup, Hockaday designed the Rearwin Airplanes Inc., Speedster, Sportster and Cloudster. (Rearwin, like Porterfield, was based at Fairfax Airport, Kansas City, Kansas.)

In 1940, Hockaday worked for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Hockaday later formed Hockaday Aircraft Corporation at Burbank, California, to produce the Hockaday Comet.

Noel Ross Hockaday died at Los Angeles, California, 26 May 1959, at the age of 54 years.

Edward Everett Porterfield, Jr., circa 1925. (Airplanes and Rockets)

Edward Everett Porterfield, Jr., was born at Kansas City, Missouri, 7 November 1890. He was the son of Edward Everett Porterfield, Sr.,² a state circuit court judge, and Julia L. Chick Porterfield.

E.E. Porterfield, Jr., was a manager for the New England Equitable Life Insurance Company in Kansas City. On 17 January 1911, he married Miss Margaret Hughes in Nebraska. They would have two sons, both of whom died in infancy. Mrs. Porterfield sued for divorce, charging that she had been abandoned. The divorce was granted and she was awarded $30.00 per month in financial support.

Porterfield enlisted in the United States Army, 4 March 1918, and served as a sergeant with the 314th Trench Mortar Battery, 164th Field Artillery Brigade, 89th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. The division fought at the Battle of St. Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The 89th was inactivated following the war. Sergeant Porterfield was honorably discharged, 20 February 1919.

Porterfield’s second wife was Margaret Jellison Porterfield. They also divorced.

In 1925, Porterfield founded the Porterfield Flying School at Richards Field, the first airport for Kansas City, Missouri. In 1928, he founded the American Eagle Aircraft Corporation at Fairfax Airport, Kansas City, Kansas.³

E.E. Porterfield married his third wife, Mildred Shiveley, at Odessa, Missouri, 25 December 1930.

Porterfield later founded the Porterfield Aircraft Corporation in 1932. During World War II, light aircraft production ceased and the company eventually went out of business.

Edward Everett Porterfield, Jr., died at Kansas City, Missouri, 29 August 1948, at the age of 58 years. He was buried at the Mount Washington Cemetery, Independence, Missouri.

Porterfield Model 35-70 Flyabout. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12022

² Full Disclosure: Judge Edward Everett Porterfield, Sr., a Kansas state circuit court judge, had an involvement in the infamous Dr. Hyde murders which took place at the Colonel Thomas H. Swope mansion near Independence, Missouri (State of Missouri v. Bennett Clarke Hyde, 1910). Colonel Swope was a distant relative of TDiA.

³ The Kansas City Metropolitan Area is divided by the Missouri River, which is the boundary between the State of Missouri and the State of Kansas. Therefore, there is a Kansas City, Missouri, and a Kansas City, Kansas.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1928

“Louise Thaden in 1929, in front of the left wing of Beechcraft Travel Air 3000. She is wearing goggles around her neck, she is holding a leather flying helmet, and her left foot is resting on the wheel.” Louise Thaden with a Travel Air 3000 at Oakland Airport, circa 1929 (NASM-SI-83-2145)

7 December 1928: Flying a Travel Air 3000 biplane over Oakland, California, Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden established an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet).¹ Mrs. Thaden surpassed the record of 5,008 meters (16,430 feet) set by Lady Heath, just five days earlier, 2 December 1928.²

The Oakland Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association wanted to have all new U.S. records set at Oakland, and Mrs. Thaden’s altitude flight was a part of that campaign. Officials from the Oakland NAA group observed her flight in order to certify the record for the international body, the FAI.

Before altitude flight, Charles S. Nagel, NAA observer, w/ barograph (SDASM # WOF_00340

The Oakland Tribune reported:

AVIATRIX SETS WORLD RECORD

Oakland Pilot Breaks Mark for Women With Altitude of 25,400 Feet.

     Confident that she has established a new world’s altitude record for women fliers, Mrs. Louise McPhetridge Thaden, Oakland aviatrix, clyaims [sic] to have attained a height of 25,400 feet in her plane during a flight of one hour and fifty-five minutes over Oakland airport.

Mrs. Thaden took off from the local flying field at 2:30 p.m. yesterday in a Travelair [sic] biplane equipped with a 180-horsepower Hispano-Suiza motor. She carried two altimeters and a sealed barograph. One altimeter showed a height of 25,400 feet, while the other registered 23,100 feet. Either mark would be sufficient to break the record of 22,000 feet held by Lady Heath of London.

In the plane were a tank of oxygen and a mask which Mrs. Thaden found necessary to use at a height of 15,000 feet. She was dressed in a fur-lined flying suit, fur-lined boots, and wore a fur-lined helmet and gloves.

“It was awfully cold up there,” said Mrs. Thaden after landing at the airport. “The flight wasn’t difficult, and I believe I can establish a higher altitude mark than this one.”

The flight was conducted under supervision of the Oakland chapter, National Aeronautical [sic] Association, with Leo S. Nagle, local president, assisting. The sealed barograph will be sent to Washington, D.C., for official calibrating to make Mrs. Thaden’s flight official.

__________

     WICHITA, Kansas, Dec. 8.—(AP)—Mrs. Louise McPhetridge von Thaden, Oakland, Calif., aviatrix, who believes she has established a new altitude record for women fliers, learned to fly while she was in Wichita working as a saleswoman for a local company. She came here from Bentonville, Ark., where she formerly taught school.

Walter Beech, president of the airplane manufacturing company which built the plane Mrs. Thaden used in her altitude flight, said he picked as a person having natural ability for flying after she had only 10 hours of instruction in the air

Oakland Tribune, Vol. CIX, No. 161, Saturday, 8 December 1928, Page 1, Column 6

Thaden/oxygen system (University of Arkansas Library, Women in Arkansas Collection ualr-ph-0067_na_na_pho0049)

Because of the altitudes at which she intended to fly, Mrs. Thaden carried a cylinder of pressurized oxygen and face mask. In her autobiography, she wrote:

Louise Thaden after her record flight (CTIE Monash University)

. . . Every foot of altitude was a battle. “Come on baby,” I breathed, “Just a hundred feet more! You can do it—just a hundred feet more. Come on, baby—hunnert—feet—.”

     There was a ringing in my ears, a far away, dim, yet sharply ringing like the sound you hear coming out from under ether. The plane was nose down, turning in wide, fast circles, engine bellowing protestingly under wide-open throttle.

     Automatically easing the throttle back and giving back pressure on the stick, I glanced at the altimeter: 16,200 feet. I fumbled clumsily and my numb fingers succeeded in prying the frozen mass of ice and mask from my face. Fresh air tasted good as I breathed in long, hard, deep, gulps. The plane weaved crazily.

     I thought, “I must have passed out.”

High, Wide, and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2004. Chapter 2, Page 24

Douglas Warren congratulates Louise Thaden, still seated in the cockpit of the Travel Air 3000. (SDASM # WOF_00350)

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative for his Travel Air Manufacturing Company at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. Beech asked her to go to Oakland as an employee of Douglas C. Warren, the new Travel Air dealer for the western region of the United States. He included flying lessons with her employment. (Warren owned the airplanes used by Mrs. Thaden to set her altitude and endurance records.) She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Once in California, Miss McPhetridge met an aeronautical engineer, Herbert von Thaden,³ and they were married on 21 July 1928.

“Louise in the Hisso-powered Travel Air N5425 used for the Altitude Record.” (High, Wide and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden, the University of Arkansas Press, 2004, at Page 22. NASM SI-89-21985)

The airplane flown by Mrs. Thaden for her altitude record was a Travel Air 3000, registration NC5425, serial number 514. The Travel Air 3000 was a single-engine, three-place, single-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 24 feet, 3 inches (7.391 meters) long, with an upper wing span of 34 feet, 8 inches (10.566 meters), and lower span of 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters). The airplane had an overall height of 9 feet, 0 inches (2.743 meters). The 3000 had an empty weight of 1,664 pounds (755 kilograms), and gross weight of 2,590 pounds (1,175 kilograms).

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, front view

Travel Air biplanes could be ordered with several different air-cooled or water-cooled engines, such as the Curtiss OX-5, the 120 h.p. Fairchild Caminez 4-cylinder radial, or the Wright Whirlwind. The 3000 was equipped with a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated Hispano-Suiza 8Ac V-8 (according to FAI records). For the record flight the engine was replaced with a “souped-up” engine.

The Travel Air 3000 had a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), and the maximum range was 400 miles (644 kilometers).

The Travel Air Manufacturing Company built approximately 50 of the “Hisso-powered” Travel Air 3000 variant.

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, left side view
Uncased barograph from Louise Thaden’s altitude record flight.(SDA&SM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12212

³ Herbert von Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and the 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.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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