18 September 1919: Curtiss Engineering Corporation test pilot Roland Rohlfs set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew a Curtiss 18T-2 Wasp triplane, U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A3325, to an altitude of 9,577 meters (31,421 feet) over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York.¹ Contemporary sources, however, reported that Rohlfs’ peak altitude was 34,610 feet (10,549 meters).
This record broke Rohlfs’ previous FAI World Record for Altitude of 9,241 meters (30,318 feet) set at Garden City, New York, 30 July 1918.²
Rohlfs took off at 12:06 p.m. and reached his peak altitude 1 hour, 15 minutes later. The air temperature was -43 °F. (-41.7 °C.). He touched down after 1 hour, 53 minutes.
The Curtiss 18T Wasp was a two-place single-engine triplane fighter designed and built for the United States Navy at the end of World War I. A3325 had been loaned to the U.S. Army to set an airspeed record of 163 miles per hour (262 kilometers per hour), before being returned to Curtiss for additional testing. It was fitted with a set of longer wings and redesignated 18T-2. The second 18T, A3326, retained the standard 32’–½” (9.766 meters) wings and was redesignated 18T-1.
The Curtiss 18T-2 was 23 feet (7.010 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 7½ inches (12.383 meters). It weighed 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms). The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.11-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss-Kirkham K-12 60° single-overhead-cam V-12 engine which produced 375 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 400 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The K-12 drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 0.6:1 gear reduction.
A3325 later crashed during a test flight. Its sistership, A3326, suffered a crankshaft failure and was destroyed. The Curtiss 18T was never placed in series production.
20 May 1927, 7:51:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (11:51:30 G.M.T.): In his effort to advance the Art and Science of Aviation, to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to fly from New York to Paris, 25-year-old aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, United States of America, and heads north-eastward over the Atlantic Ocean on his solo, record-breaking flight to Paris, France, and into History.
“I buckle my safety belt, pull goggles down over my eyes, turn to the men at the blocks, and nod.”
— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 185.
As he circles to gain altitude after takeoff, Lindbergh scans his instruments.
“On the instrument board in front of me, the earth-inductor compass needle leans steeply to the right. I bank cautiously northward until it rises to the center line — 65 degrees — the compass heading for the first 100-mile segment of my great-circle route to France and Paris. It’s 7:54 a.m. Eastern daylight time.”
— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 189.
24 April 1929: At Roosevelt Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, 17-year-old Elinor Smith set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration by staying aloft over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in a Bellanca CH Monoplane for 26 hours, 27 minutes. ¹ Miss Smith had very nearly doubled her own record, set just four months earlier. ²
During the flight the airplane’s elevator trim adjustment malfunctioned, forcing Smith to use both arms to hold the stick back to maintain level flight. She dropped a note in a weighted sack to advise those on the ground of the problem.
The Associated Press reported the event:
FLAPPER ‘ACE’ TOPS WOMEN’S AIR RECORDS
Elinor Smith Is Up Above 26 Hours; Victor Over Four.
By Associated Press,
ROOSEVELT FIELD, N.Y., April 24.—Elinor Smith, 17-year-old flying flapper of Long Island, won a victory Wednesday in the four-sided battle being waged among two women from the eastern seaboard and two from the west for the women’s solo endurance record.
She brought her plane down at 2:2:16 p.m. after 26 hours 21 minutes and 32 seconds in the air, beating the record of 22 hours 3 minutes and 12 seconds established by Louise McPhetridge of California by hours 18 minutes and 20 seconds.
Before Mrs. McPhetridge, Miss Bobbie Trout of California was the record holder. Miss Trout beat an earlier record of Miss Smith, who in turn on that earlier flight beat a record held by Viola Gentry, Long Island’s flying cashier.
Miss Smith’s record Wednesday was within 9 hours, 11 minutes and 49 seconds of the man’s solo endurance flight record of 35 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds, established at Roosevelt Field last month by Martin Jensen.
Beats Early Mark
Less than three minutes before, Miss Smith exceeded the first world endurance record ever established at this field. In 1921, Eddie Stinson of Detroit and Lloyd Bertaud, who was lost with the transatlantic plane Old Glory, established a record there of 26 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, which was 2 minutes and 57 seconds less than the record set single-handed Wednesday by Miss Smith.
About 8:30 a.m. a note was dropped from the plane in which the young flier was having trouble with the stabilizer and had both arms “wrapped around the stick.”
Sure of Victory
It was apparent, however, that she did not regard the trouble as serious for the note added: “Tough night but it won’t be long now.”
Miss Smith brought her plane, a cabin monoplane borrowed from G.M. Bellanca, airplane designer, down to a perfect landing.
“I think it’s wonderful that I broke the record. Now I want to get some sleep,” she said as she dodged the crowds and vanished homeward.
Miss Smith’s mother Wednesday night said plans had been made for Elinor to make a transatlantic flight this summer, probably to Rome. She said backers already had been obtained.
—The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 25, 1929, Page 1, Column 4.
The Bellanca CH Monoplane (also referred to as the CH-200) was a single-engine high-wing monoplane, designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca and built by the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, Newcastle, Delaware. It was operated by one pilot and could carry up to 5 passengers in an enclosed cabin.
The airplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,275 pounds (1,032 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,072 pounds (1,847 kilograms).
The Bellanca CH Monoplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind J-5 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed propeller. 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 airplane’s maximum speed was 126 miles per hour (203 kilometers per hour) and its range was 800 miles (1,287 kilometers).
Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City, 17 August 1911. She was the second of three children of Thomas Francis Ward, a vaudeville dancer and comedian, and Agnes A. Ward, a singer. In order to avoid being mistaken for another performer, Mr. Ward changed his name to Smith. Miss Ward also adopted the name and is better known as “Elinor Smith.”
Miss Smith took her first flight in an airplane at the age of six years. When she was ten she began flight training in her father’s Weaver Aircraft Co. Waco 9 biplane. Just before her seventeenth birthday she qualified for a pilot’s certificate. It was issued 14 August 1928 by the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.A., on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Certificate No. 6906 was signed by Orville Wright, Chairman of the N.A.A.
Elinor Smith first came to the attention of the general public when, on 21 October 1928, she flew under four bridges on New York City’s East River.
In November 1928 Miss Smith was employed by the Irvin Air Chute Company as a pilot. She toured the United States, flying a Bellanca Pacemaker.
On 10 March 1930, Smith set an FAI world altitude for women of 8,357 meters (27,418 feet). ³ She flew a Bellanca Skyrocket, NC752W.
In May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, U.S. Department of Commerce issued a Transport License to Miss Smith. She was the youngest pilot to receive that license up to that time.
A 1930 poll of licensed pilots in the United States selected Smith as the Best Woman Pilot in America. Her male counterpart was the legendary Jimmy Doolittle.
Elinor Smith set several U.S. national records for speed, altitude and duration. From 1930 to 1935, she was an expert commentator on aviation for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network.
On 22 July 1933, Patrick H. Sullivan II, an attorney and member of the New York State Assembly for the 11th District of New York County, married Elinor Smith in New York City. They would have four children. Following the birth of their first child, Patrick H. Sullivan III, Mrs. Sullivan gave up flying.
In 1934, Mrs. Sullivan became the first woman to be featured on the box of General Mills’ Wheaties breakfast cereal, “The Breakfast of Champions.” This has always been a high honor for sporting men and women.
After her husband died in 1956, Elinor Smith Sullivan resumed flying, and continued until she was 89 years old.
Mrs. Elinor Smith Sullivan died 19 March 2010 at Lytton Gardens Health Care Center, Palo Alto, California. She was aged 98 years, 7 months and 3 days.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12217. Duration: 26 hours, 27 minutes. 24 April 1929.
² FAI Record File Number 12216. Duration: 13 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds. 31 January 1929.
³ FAI Record File Number 12226. Altitude, Female: 8,357 meters (27,418 feet), 10 March 1930.
4–5 February 1929: At 5:37:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday, Frank Monroe Hawks took off from Metropolitan Field, Los Angeles, California, (now known as Van Nuys Airport, VNY) in a new Lockheed Model 3 Air Express transport, NR7955, serial number EX-2. Also on board was Oscar Edwin Grubb, the final assembly superintendent for Lockheed. The pair flew non-stop to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, arriving there at 2:59:29 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday. The duration of the flight was 18 hours, 21 minutes, 59 seconds.
The only previous non-stop West-to-East flight had been flown during August 1928 by Arthur C. Goebel, Jr., and Harry Tucker with their Lockheed Vega, Yankee Doodle, NX4769. Hawks cut 36 minutes off of Goebel’s time.
Hawks was a technical adviser to The Texas Company (“Texaco”), a manufacturer and distributor of petroleum products which sponsored the flight. On his recommendation, the company purchased the Air Express from Lockheed for use as a company transport.
On 17 January 1930, “Pilot Frank Hawks attempted a takeoff from a soggy field in West Palm Beach, Florida, destroying the aircraft christened ‘Texaco Five’ in a spectacular crash that catapulted it into a row of three parked aircraft. All three occupants were unhurt while the aircraft was destroyed.” —Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives
NC7955’s Department of Commerce registration was cancelled 31 January 1930.
The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane transport, flown by a single pilot in an open aft cockpit, and capable of carrying 4 to 6 passengers in its enclosed cabin. The airplane was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and John Knudsen Northrop. It used the Lockheed Vega’s molded plywood monocoque fuselage.
The Model 3 received Approved Type Certificate No. 102 from the Aeronautic Branch, U. S. Department of Commerce.
The Lockheed Air Express was the first production airplane to use the “NACA Cowl,” an engine cowling for radial engines which had been designed by a team led by Fred Ernest Weick of the the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The new cowling design tightly enclosed the engine and used baffles to control air flow around the hottest parts of the engines. The exit slots were designed to allow the air to exit the cowling at a higher speed than it had entered the intake. The new cowling design provided better engine cooling and caused significantly less aerodynamic drag. The addition of the NACA cowling increased the Air Express’s maximum speed from 157 to 177 miles per hour (253 to 285 kilometers per hour).
The day following Hawks’ transcontinental flight, Vultee sent a telegram to NACA:
COOLING CAREFULLY CHECKED AND OK. RECORD IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT NEW COWLING. ALL CREDIT DUE TO NACA FOR PAINSTAKING AND ACCURATE RESEARCH. GERRY VULTEE, LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT CO.
The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wing span of 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4½ inches (2.553 meters). The wing area was 288 square feet (26.756 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The airplane had an empty weight of 2,533 pounds (1,149 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1,984 kilograms).
The Model 3 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. 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 Air Express had a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour). It’s service ceiling was 17,250 feet (5,258 meters).
Francis Monroe Hawks was born at Marshalltown, Iowa, 28 March 1897. He was the son of Charles Monroe Hawks, a barber, and Ida Mae Woodruff Hawks. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California, graduating in 1916. He then studied at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. Hawks transferred to the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His date of rank 27 May 1932.
His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mysterious Pilot.”
On 28 December 1920, Miss Amelia Earhart took her first ride in an airplane at Long Beach Airport in California. The ten-minute flight began her life-long involvement in aviation. The airplane’s pilot was Frank Monroe Hawks.
Francis M. Hawks married Miss Newell Lane at Lewiston, Montana, 7 August 1918. They had a daughter, Dolly. They later divorced. He next married Mrs. Edith Bowie Fouts at St. John’s Church, Houston, Texas, 26 October 1926.
Frank Hawks was killed in an aircraft accident at East Aurora, New York, 23 August 1938. He was buried at Redding Ridge Cemetery, Redding, Connecticut.