17 March 1937, 4:37 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (23:37, UTC): Amelia Mary Earhart departed Oakland Municipal Airport, located on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, beginning the first leg of her around-the-world flight. Also aboard were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020.
Flying a Great Circle course, the distance from Oakland to Wheeler Field on the Island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, was 2,093 nautical miles (2,408 statute miles/3,876 kilometers).
Captain Frederick J. Noonan was formerly the Chief Navigator of Pan American Airways, and had extensive experience in transoceanic flight. Captain Harry Manning was a Master Mariner, commanding ocean liners for United States Lines. (He would later serve as captain of SS United States, the flagship of America’s Merchant Marine, and as the Commodore of United States Lines.)
Amelia Earhart’s 1936 Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, was the fifth of fifteen built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport, BUR). Designed to carry as many as ten passengers, NR16020 had been modified to carry fuel for 20 hours of flight. Amelia first flew the Electra with a Lockheed test pilot, Elmer C. McLeod, 21 July 1936, and took delivery on her 39th birthday, 24 July. The airplane cost $80,000.
The Lockheed Electra 10 was designed by Hall Hibbard, and was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s first assignment when he went to work at Lockheed. It was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 0 inches (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters).
While the basic Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms), Amelia Earhart’s modified Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3,295.4 kilograms), partly as a result of the additional fuel tanks which had been installed. Fully fueled, NR16020 carried 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) of gasoline.
NR19020 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage supercharger. The S3H1 had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m for Takeoff, using 80/87 aviation gasoline. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 9 feet, 7/8-inch (2.675 meters). The Wasp S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.092 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
17 March 1929: Louise Thaden, flying a Beech Travel Air 3000, NC5426, over Oakland, California, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration, staying aloft for 22 hours, 3 minutes.¹ This flight broke the previous record which had been set five weeks earlier, 10–11 February, by Evelyn (“Bobbie”) Trout—which had broken the record set 2 January 1929 by Elinor Smith.
The Oakland Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association wanted to have all new U.S. records set at Oakland, and Mrs. Thaden’s duration 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.
The airplane flown by Mrs. Thaden for her duration record was a Travel Air 3000, registration NC5426, serial number 51?. The airplane was modified with an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cockpit.
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 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.
The Oakland Tribune reported:
WOMAN FLIER BREAKS RECORD
Oakland Aviatrix Sets World Mark for Endurance Flight
Mrs. Louise McPhetridge Thaden wants to break more aviation records, she declared at Oakland airport today. Already holder of the altitude record for women and having brought her biplane to earth here yesterday with a new women’s endurance flight record, she now is thinking about establishing new altitude and speed marks for women.
For 22 hours, 3 minutes and 25 seconds, Mrs. Thaden kept her plane in teh air over Oakland airport yesterday, fighting against drowsiness and night cold to beat the former women’s sustained flight record of 17 hours, 5 minutes, 37 seconds, recently established by Miss Bobby Trout of Los Angeles.
It was at noon yesterday that Mrs. Thaden signalled to planes flying close to her that her gasoline supply was getting low.. Still she kept circling over the airport while thousands waited on the ground below, eager to see her and greet her when she landed.
12 GALLONS OF GAS REMAIN AT FINISH.
Mrs. Thaden made one last great circle of the flying field and brought her plane to earth at 1:55 p.m. She taxied her plane to a hangar, where officials of the Oakland chapter, National Aeronautic association, newspaper men and friends waited to welcome her. Examination of the plane showed that only 12 gallons of 196 gallons of gasoline were left.
As friends helped her out of the cockpit where she had sat in a cramped position without sleep, she smiled and said: “Well, I made it. But, gosh, I’m tired.”
Thousands who had waited at the Oakland airport since early morning cheered Mrs. Thaden, and police were busy keeping them from crushing her in their desire to see the flier and her record plane.
Mrs. Thaden was greeted first with a hug and a kiss from Mrs. Hattie V. Thaden, her mother-in-law, who had waited through the long night at the airport, confident that her son’s wife would succeed in her record-seeking attempt.
—Oakland Tribune, Vol. CX, No. 77, Monday, 18 March 1929, Page 1, Column 5, and Page 2, Column 2
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 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.
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.²
In 1929, Mrs. Thaden was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.
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
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.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12223
² Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. He 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.
11 January 1935: At 4:40 p.m., local time, Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for Oakland Municipal Airport at Oakland, California, in her Lockheed Vega 5C Special, NR965Y. She arrived 18 hours, 15 minutes later. Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the Mainland.
(This Vega was not the same aircraft which she used to fly the Atlantic, Vega 5B NR7952, and which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.)
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane 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 or other astronomical objects.
Lockheed Model 5C Vega serial number 171 was completed in March 1931, painted red with silver trim, and registered NX965Y. The airplane had been ordered by John Henry Mears. Mears did not take delivery of the new airplane and it was then sold to Elinor Smith. It was resold twice before being purchased by Amelia Earhart in December 1934.
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).
Earhart’s Vega 5C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 2849, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. 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).
“Before parting with her ‘little red bus’ (as she affectionately called it), Amelia removed the upgraded Wasp engine and substituted an obsolete model; she wanted her well-tried engine for the new airplane, also a Lockheed Vega. It was a later model, in which Elinor Smith had been preparing to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, a plan abandoned after Amelia successfully took that record. It was originally built to exacting specifications for Henry Mears of New York, who had a round-the-world flight in mind. Called the Vega, Hi-speed Special, it carried the registration 965Y and was equipped with special fuel tanks, radio, and streamlined landing gear and cowling. These latter appointments, together with a Hamilton Standard Controllable-Pitch Propeller, gave the plane a speed of 200 mph and Amelia had her eye on further records as well as her constant journeys across the continent.”
— The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 17 at Page 206.
“. . . At Oakland Airport a good ten thousand had been waiting for several hours, yet when she came in she surprised them. They had been craning their necks looking for a lone aircraft flying high and obviously seeking a place to land. But Amelia did not even circle the field; she brought the Vega in straight as an arrow at a scant two hundred feet, landing at 1:31 p.m. Pacific time. The crowd set up a roar, broke through the police lines, and could be halted only when dangerously near the still-whirling propeller. From the road circling the airport, a chorus of automobile horns honked happily.”
— Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Washington and London, 1997, Chapter 13 at Page 132.
Amelia Earhart sold the Vega in 1936. It appeared in “Wings in the Dark,” (Paramount Pictures, 1935), and “Border Flight,” (Paramount Pictures, 1936) which starred Frances Farmer, John Howard and Robert Cummings. It changed hands twice more before being destroyed in a hangar fire 26 August 1943.
25 October 1931: At 5:17:30 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, Saturday afternoon (01:17:30, Sunday, 26 October, G.M.T.), Ruth Rowland Nichols took off from Oakland Municipal Airport, in California, and headed east. Her destination was New York City, New York, non-stop.
Miss Nichols was flying a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr. The airplane had just been repaired following a landing accident three months earlier, in which she had suffered five fractured vertabrae. [TDiA 22 June 1931] The Vega was white with gold wings. A list of records which had been previously set by Miss Nichols was lettered in gold on the forward fuselage.
At 7:35 p.m., Mountain Standard Time (02:35, Sunday, G.M.T.) the Vega was sighted over Reno, Nevada. It was over Salt Lake City, Utah, at 11:00, local time (06:00 G.M.T.), and Cheyenne, Wyoming, at 1:07 a.m., Sunday, Central Standard Time (07:07 G.M.T.).
Ruth Nichols and her Lockheed landed at Bowling Field, Louisville, Kentucky, at 9:40 a.m., Sunday, local time (15:40 G.M.T.). Though well short of her intended destination, she had set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing of 3 182,65 kilometers (1,977.607 statute miles). This broke the record set 29 June 1931 by Mlle Maryse Bastie during a flight from Paris, France, to Udino, Russia.²
Ruth Nichols described her flight for a newspaper syndicate:
Miss Nichols Tells the Story of Her Flight
Says High Altitudes During Trip Caused Dizziness.
The following account of her non-stop flight from Oakland, Calif., to Louisville was written by Miss Ruth Nichols for the Courier-Journal and the North American Newspaper Alliance.
By RUTH NICHOLS.
(Copyright, 1931, By North American Newspaper Alliance, Inc.)
Twelve hours of darkness is a long time, particularly when the sky is overcast. Although the moon was out, the horizon line was hazy, and over the Western plains, where there are only a few towns, the only contact with civilization that a flier has is a twinkling beacon that is often lost behind a gigantic mountain peak.
Because of the difficulty in seeing the mountain passes easily, an average high altitude is wise, but I found that after eight hours of flying around 15,000 feet made me dizzy.
Used Oxygen Supply.
I had an oxygen tank with me, and I have spent a considerable amount of times at high altitudes, but the indistinctness of the night has a tendency to diffuse one’s senses, and the oxygen resulted in too much of a boost.
At times I felt myself soaring out of the ship, and, twice while the sky was overcast and the ship still heavily loaded, I had a nightmare of a time to keep from slipping off into a power spin.
At times like that, it is necessary to keep busy doing something. It keeps the circulation going.
The cube-like boundary lights of emergency fields are a welcome sight in those barren places. Many of the mountains are now snow-capped, and the lakes and rivers glisten white when the moon is out, making navigation simple.
About every hour I saw a cobweb of lights, which meant a large town, and marked off a milestone in the long night. There was a strong drift at times, but I always had a favorable wind.
The hour before dawn is certainly the darkest. Then the horizon seems often to disappear entirely. My, how welcome that streak of red dawn is!
To avoid low ceilings over the Alleghanies, I headed south, and thus ran low in gas, and landed here.
People often ask me what a flier thinks about. Much and many things! I wondered what the fields are like if a forced landing is necessary, how long will the batteries last, my goodness! There I dropped the coffee thermos.
Every time I took my foot off the rudder to pick it up by means of my toe and hand, teh ship slid off into a near spin.
I wondered how much gas that good old motor was using. I thought: Why, there is Orion!—and then wondered where the Little Bear constellation was hiding. And finally, I observed: That looks like nice country for a horseback trip!
Then there is the question: “What is the value of establishing all these records?”
The answer is that for a girl to fly long distances shows the facility and safety of handling a present-day airplane.
That ride over our country at night is really a most inspiring event. I advise everyone to try it!
—The Courier-Journal, Vol. CLIV. New Series—No, 22,944, Monday 26 October 1931, Page 1, Column 6, and Page 2, Column 7
Nichols had planned to resume her flight to New York at 9:00 a.m., Monday morning, 27 October. That was not to be, however:
WOMAN FLYER’S SHIP DESTROYED
Ruth Nichols Jumps From Blazing Plane
Defective Valve Deluges Craft With Gasoline
Aviatrix Unhurt in Leap From Cabin Window
LOUISVILLE (Ky.) Oct. 26. (AP)—Ruth Nichols’s monoplane caught fire today as she was warming up to take off for New York. She leaped from a window of the cockpit barely in time to escape the flames.
The young aviatrix stumbled as she reached the ground, but mechanics grabbed her and hustled her away from the fiery plane. The plane was reported almost a total loss.
The was caused by a stream of gasoline that suddenly burst from beneath the plane. Attendants at Bowman Field said they believed a dump valve had been released by the vibration of the engine.
The dump valve, Miss Nichols said, gave her some trouble in California, but she had a new one installed there. She talked while city firemen arrived and after a half hour’s work extinguished the flames.
The Rye (N.Y.) aviatrix, who landed here yesterday from Oakland, Cal., after getting lost in the early morning, but still making what is believed to be a new distance record for women, first noticed something wrong from the frantic signals of mechanics. It was doubtful if she heard their cries above the roar of the motor.
Miss Nichols throttled down her engine before getting out, but had only a moment in which to escape. The accident occurred just as she gave the motor “the gun” for warming up after she had inspected the refueling and checked up on the monoplane and had studied weather reports for the New York flight.
AVIATRIX SUFFERING FROM LAST CRASH
NEW YORK, Oct 26. (AP)—Friends of Ruth Nichols, pleased that she was unhurt when she leaped from the high cockpit of her burning plane at Louisville, recalled today she is still wearing a steel corset to protect the vertebra she smashed in the first stage of a proposed Atlantic flight last summer.
Miss Nichols crashed in landing at St. John, N.B., on the first leg of her projected ocean flight, which was abandoned. Her plane was demolished and she was injured seriously. For a long time she wore a plaster cast to protect her spine and this was recently replaced by the steel corset.
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. L., Tuesday, 27 October 1931, Part I, Page 3, Column 6
Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr., founder of the Crosley Radio Corporation, a manufacturer of radio equipment and owner of a broadcast network based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had named the airplane The New Cincinnati. Miss Nichols called it Akita.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, the Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could be configured to carry four to six passengers.
The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.
The Model 5 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).
Nichols’ airplane was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. The engine drove a two-bladed controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard propeller through direct drive. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.3-7 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The standard Vega 5 had a cruising 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 (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).
¹ FAI Record File Number 12340
² FAI Record File Numbers 12345, 12346 and 14886: 2 976,31 kilometers (1,849.39 statute miles)
28 June 1927: At 7:09 a.m., PDT, 1st Lieutenant Lester J. Maitland and 1st Lieutenant Albert F. Hegenberger, Air Service, United States Army, took off from Oakland Municipal Airport, California, aboard an Atlantic-Fokker C-2, serial number A.S. 26-202, Bird of Paradise. Their destination was Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 2,407 miles (3,874 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean.
The Air Service had been planning such a flight for many years. Specialized air navigation equipment had been developed, much of it by Lieutenant Hegenberger, and simulations and practice flights had been carried out.
Bird of Paradise was built by the Atlantic Aircraft Co., Teterboro, New Jersey, the American subsidiary of Fokker. Derived from the civil Fokker F.VIIa/3m, a three-engine high-wing passenger transport with fixed landing gear. It had been adopted by the Air Service as a military transport. A.S. 26-202 was modified with a larger wing, increased fuel capacity, and the installation of Hegenberger’s navigation equipment.
It was powered by three 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) air-cooled Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. They turned two-bladed Standard adjustable-pitch propellers through direct drive. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).
The C-2 was fueled with 1,134 gallons (4,293 liters) of gasoline and 40 gallons (151 liters) of oil.
Maitland and Hegenberger planned to fly a Great Circle route to Hawaii and to use radio beacons in California and Hawaii to guide them, in addition to celestial navigation. For most of the flight, however, they were not able to receive the radio signals and relied on ded reckoning.
After 25 hours, 50 minutes of flight, Bird of Paradise landed at Wheeler Field, 6:29 a.m., local time, 29 June 1927. It had completed the first Transpacific Flight.
For their achievement, both officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.