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.
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.
#0000ff; font-family: comic sans ms, sans-serif;">“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.”
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).