6 March 1931: Ruth Rowland Nichols set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 8,761 meters (28,743 feet) at Jersey City Airport, New Jersey.¹
Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr. He had named the airplane The New Cincinnati.
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 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 fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood.
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, a 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. 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 (1.307 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
Flying the Vega, Ruth Nichols also set records for speed between New York and Los Angeles. NR496M was damaged beyond repair at Floyd Bennett Field, 11 April 1931.
“Ruth Nichols was the only woman to hold simultaneously the women’s world speed, altitude, and distance records for heavy landplanes. She soloed in a flying boat and received her pilot’s license after graduating from Wellesley College in 1924, becoming the first woman in New York to do so. Defying her parents wishes to follow the proper life of a young woman, in January 1928 she flew nonstop from New York City to Miami with Harry Rogers in a Fairchild FC-2. The publicity stunt brought Nichols fame as “The Flying Debutante” and provided headlines for Rogers’ airline too. Sherman Fairchild took note and hired Nichols as a northeast sales manager for Fairchild Aircraft and Engine Corporation. She helped to found the Long Island Aviation Country Club, an exclusive flying club and participated in the 19,312-meter (12,000-mile) Sportsman Air Tour to promote the establishment of clubs around the country. She was also a founder of Sportsman Pilot magazine. Nichols set several women’s records in 1931, among them a speed record of 339.0952 kph (210.704 mph), an altitude record of 8,760 meters (28,743 feet), and a nonstop distance record of 3182.638 kilometers (1,977.6 miles). Her hopes to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean were dashed by two crashes of a Lockheed Vega in 1931, in which she was severely injured, and again in 1932. In 1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II. Nichols became a lieutenant colonel in the CAP. After the war she organized a mission in support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and became an advisor to the CAP on air ambulance missions. In 1958, she flew a Delta Dagger at 1,609 kph (1,000 mph) at an altitude of 15,544 meters (51,000 feet). A Hamilton variable pitch propeller (which allowed a pilot to select a climb or cruise position for the blades), from her Lockheed Vega is displayed in the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Nichols’ autobiography is titled Wings for Life.”
— Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Women In Aviation and Space History, The Golden Age of Flight.
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.
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in present the Medal of Honor to
FIRST LIEUTENANT CHRISTIAN F. SCHILT
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following
For extraordinary heroism while serving with Marine Observation Squadron 7/M (VO-7M) in action during the progress of an insurrection at Quilali, Nicaragua, 6, 7, and 8 January 1928, Lieutenant Schilt, then a member of a Marine Expedition which had suffered severe losses in killed and wounded, volunteered under almost impossible conditions to evacuate the wounded by air, and transport a relief commanding officer to assume charge of a very serious situation. First Lieutenant Schilt bravely undertook this dangerous and important task and, by taking off a total of 10 times in the rough, rolling street of a partially burning village, under hostile infantry fire on each occasion, succeeded in accomplishing his mission, thereby actually saving three lives and bringing supplies and aid to others in desperate need.
In 1926, civil war broke out in Nicaragua. United States Marines were sent in to establish a protected sector for American citizens who were in the country (this is known as the Second Nicaraguan Campaign). First Lieutenant Schilt, a Naval Aviator since 1919, was assigned to an observation squadron at Managua in November 1927. On 6 January 1928, rebel soldiers ambushed to U.S. Marine patrols at the village of Quilali. The Marines were cut off, unable to be re-supplied or to have the wounded men evacuated. Lieutenant Schilt volunteered to fly into the village and land on a road, carrying supplies and flying the wounded men out. Conditions were difficult, with low clouds, surrounding mountains and hostile gunfire on landing and takeoff.
Over three days, Schilt made ten flights, bringing out 18 wounded Marines and flying in a replacement commander and badly-needed medical supplies. To make a landing strip on the village’s rough, rolling, main street, the Marines on the ground had to burn and level part of the town, and since the plane had no brakes they had to stop it by dragging from its wings as soon as it touched down.
The Chance Vought O2U-1 Corsair was a two-seat, single-engine single-bay biplane used for reconnaissance. It was 24 feet, 8 inches (7.519 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) and height of 10 feet, ½ inch (3.060 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,342 pounds (1,062.3 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,635 pounds (1,648.8 kilograms).
The 02U-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C (R-1340-88) 9-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. This was a direct drive engine, rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m, at Sea Level.
The O2U-1 had a maximum speed of 151 miles per hour (243 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 22,500 feet (6,858 meters) and the maximum range was 880 miles (1,416 kilometers) at cruise speed.
Armament consisted of two fixed .30-caliber Browning machine guns, and one or two .30-caliber Lewis machine guns on a flexible mount in the aft cockpit.
Vought produced 291 O2U Corsairs between 1926 and 1930.
Christian Frank Schilt had a long career in the United States Marine Corps, beginning as an enlisted man with the first American military aviation unit sent overseas during World War I. After becoming a Naval Aviator and commissioned officer, he served for several years in the Carribean and Central American campaigns, before being assigned as chief test pilot at the Naval Aircraft Factory.
During World War II, Schilt served as chief of staff of the 1st Marine Air Wing at Guadalcanal, then commanded Marine Aircraft Group 11, commanding all Marine Corps aviation units during the Guadalcanal and Solomon Islands campaigns. He returned to the United States as commander MCAS Cherry Point.
General Schilt commanded the 9th and 2nd Marine Aviation Wings in the Pacific, and during the Korean War, he commanded the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
He next served as Commanding General, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and then as Director of Aviation at Headquarters Marine Corps.
Lieutenant General Schilt retired 1 April 1957 after forty years of service. Because of his distinguished combat career, he was promoted to the rank of General.
General Shilt was awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with Gold Stars (five awards), the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon with Bronze Star (two awards).
General Schilt died 8 January 1987 at the age of 91 years.
3–5 October 1931: At 6:01 a.m., local time, 4 October (21:01, 3 October, Greenwich Mean Time), Clyde Edward Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, Jr., flying their Bellanca Skyrocket, Miss Veedol, took off from Sabashiro Beach, on the northern coast of the island of Honshu, Japan. Their destination was Seattle, Washington, 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers) across the North Pacific Ocean.
Pangborn and Herndon had been on an around-the-world flight, attempting to better the time recently set by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty. The flight was sponsored by Herndon and his mother, Alice Carter Herndon, heiress to the Tide Water Oil Company. Tide Water was the producer of the Veedol line of motor oils and lubricants, so the airplane was named Miss Veedol for public relations purposes.
Delays while traversing the Soviet Union made it impossible to beat the Post/Gatty record time, however, so the pair flew on to Japan, hoping to win prize money offered by several organizations for the first Transpacific flight. They landed in Japan on 8 August, and because they had done so without authorization, were held under house arrest for seven weeks.
On takeoff, Miss Veedol was seriously overloaded, carrying a reported 915 gallons (3,464 liters) of gasoline and 45 gallons (170 liters) of engine oil. Miss Veedol had been modified by Pangborn so that its landing gear could be dropped, reducing weight by approximately 300 pounds (136 kilograms). The decreased aerodynamic drag resulted in an increase in the airplane’s speed of approximately 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour). Dropping the landing gear would require a belly landing at the destination, however.
When it was time to jettison the landing gear, the mechanism failed, leaving two struts still attached to the airplane. Clyde Pangborn had to go outside the cockpit to remove them.
Pangborn and Herndon flew a Great Circle Course, and the first land that they encountered was Dutch Harbor, at the outer tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
The Pacific Northwest was shrouded in rain and fog, so the flyers changed their destination from Seattle to Boise, Idaho. Eventually, however, they decided to land at Wenatachee in eastern Washington State.
At 7:14 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, (14:14 G.M.T.), 5 October (they had crossed the International Date Line), Clyde Pangborne flew Miss Veedol onto the ground at Fancher Field, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) northwest of Wenatchee. The total duration of their flight was 41 hours, 13 minutes (1 day, 18 hours, 13 minutes).
The airplane was slightly damaged in the belly landing but was later repaired.
For their accomplishment, Pangborn and Herndon were awarded the the White Medal of Merit of the Imperial Aeronautical Society by Consul General Kensuke Horinouchi. The presentation took place at the Japanese consulate on 21 November 1931. The United States National Aeronautic Association awarded the two men its 1931 National Harmon Trophy.
Miss Veedol was a 1931 Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America CH-400 Skyrocket,¹ serial number 3004, registered NR796W. The CH-400 was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry up to five passengers. The CH-400 was 27 feet, 10 inches (8.484 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 2,592 pounds (1,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,600 pounds (2,087 kilograms). Its fuel capacity was 120 gallons (454 liters). Miss Veedol had been modified to carry 620 gallons (2,347 liters) of fuel.
The CH-400 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level.² It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The production Skyrocket had a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 155 miles per hour (249 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and the normal range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).
Bellanca built 32 CH-400 Skyrockets.
Miss Veedol was repaired and then sold to American Medical Researches, Inc., of New York City. It was repainted and renamed The American Nurse. While on a planned non-stop New York to Rome flight, 13 September 1932, NR796W disappeared. It was last sighted by the crew of S.S. Winnebago, an Anglo-American Oil Company bulk oil carrier, approximately 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) east of New York, at 11:50 p.m., British Summer Time, on the 13th. The pilot, two passengers, and a groundhog (Marmota monax) named Tailwind, were never seen again.
Clyde Pangborn was one of the best-known aviators of the Interwar Period. Clyde Edward Pangborn was born 28 October 1894 ³ in Douglas County, Washington. He was the second son of Max Judson Pangborn and Francis Ola Lamb Pangborn, a dressmaker. During his early 20s, Pangborn was employed as a surveyor for the B. H. & S. Smelter at Kellogg, Idaho.
Pangborn enlisted as a Private, United States Army, 11 June 1918. He was trained as a pilot and, on completion, was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Service, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. He was assigned as a flight instructor at Ellington Field, southeast of Houston, Texas. While in the Air Service, Pangborn taught himself to fly an airplane inverted for extended periods, earning himself the nick-name, “Upside-Down Pangborn.” After the Armistice brought World War I to a close, Second Lieutenant Pangborn was released from service and honorably discharged, 21 May 1919.
Through the 1920s, Pangborn was a “barnstormer,” flying demonstrations and performing stunts (such as “wing walking”) and giving rides. Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps, took his very first flight in an airplane with Clyde Pangborn as the pilot.
On 22 October 1934, Clyde Pangborn was commissioned as a lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve (Special Service). He held this commission until his death.
Clyde Pangborne married the French actress, Mlle. Jisele A. Duval (also known by her stage name, Swana Beaucaire) at Southampton, England, February 1938. They had met two years earlier when he pulled her out of a snow bank in Switzerland. They were divorced at Reno, Nevada, 3 April 1944.
During the early years of World War II, Pangborn worked for the Clayton Knight Committee, recruiting unemployed American pilots for the the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. He then joined the R.A.F. Transport Command as a civilian pilot. Captain Pangborne ferried aircraft and equipment across the Atlantic from Canada to the United Kingdom. He made approximately 175 Transatlantic flights.
In August 1942, Pangborn flew an Avro Lancaster Mk.I, R5727, across the North Atlantic to be used as a pattern aircraft for Canadian Lancaster production. Though the Lancaster was considered to be a very long-range bomber, a fuel stop was required at Gander. Pangborn flew the Lancaster around Canada and the United States, allowing aeronautical engineers and military personnel to examine the four-engine British bomber.
Following World War II, Pangborn was awarded the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom by His Majesty, George VI.
Clyde Edward Pangborn died 29 March 1958, at Manhattan, New York City, at the age of 63 years. He was buried with military honors at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Hugh Herndon Jr., was born at Titusville, Pennsylvania, 3 October 1899. He was the son of Hugh Herndon, Sr., an attorney, and Alice Carter Herndon.
Herndon married Miss Mary Ellen Farley at New York, 14 June 1931. He famously “rescued her from possible death in the tentacles of a large octopus,” at Sandy Key Island in the Bahamas, 15 January 1932. They divorced in 1948. Herndon then married Ruth D. Claiborne, 22 November 1948.
Herndon was an operations manager for Trans World Airlines, based in Cairo, Egypt. He died at his residence at Zamelek, at 10:00 p.m., 4 April 1952. He was cremated and his remains turned over to Mrs. Herndon.
¹ Some sources describe NR796W as a “CH-300 J.” It was registered by the Aeronautics Branch, United States Department of Commerce, as a “CH400 Skyrocket.”
² The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. In military service, it was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.
³ Washington State Department of Health Birth Index.
24–25 August 1932: Amelia Earhart flew her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, from Los Angeles, California, to Newark, New Jersey, a distance of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles), in 19 hours, 5 minutes. She had departed Los Angeles Municipal Airport (now known as LAX) at 7:26:54 p.m. Pacific Time, 24 August, and landed at Newark Municipal Airport at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time the following day. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) women’s World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing.¹ Her average speed for the flight was 206.42 kilometers per hour (128.27 miles per hour).
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo coast-to-coast. Less than a year later, she would break her own record by almost two hours.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane. The fuselage was molded wood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B 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 1,650 pounds (748.4 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,375 pounds (1,985 kilograms).
Earhart’s modified Vega 5B is powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level.² It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms). It drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller through direct drive.
Just three months earlier, Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean in this same airplane, which she called her “Little Red Bus.” Today, Lockheed Vega NR7952 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12342
² The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. In military service, it was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.