Tag Archives: Ruth Rowland Nichols

3 November 1932

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3 Nov 1932, Page 1, Columns 2–4, Vol. 92, Number 306

3 November 1932: In the late 1920s through mid-1930s, Miss Ruth Rowland Nichols was one of the best-known American women in aviation. She was the only person to have simultaneously held world records for speed, distance and altitude. She was at Floyd Bennett Airport, Brooklyn, New York, intending to fly across the North American continent to Burbank, California, and break Amelia Earhart’s record for the route. The flight was also intended to generate publicity for the re-election campaign of President Herbert Hoover.

Ruth Rowland Nichols

Miss Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Vega 5, s/n 619, NR496M, owned by Powell Crosley, Jr., founder of the Crosley Radio Corp. of Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the same airplane that she had crash-landed at a small airport near St. John, New Brunswick, Dominion of Canada, 22 June 1931. She had been severely injured.

At 2:48 a.m., ( UTC) while taking off, the Vega drifted off of the 3,000-foot ( meters) concrete-surfaced runway and the left wheel sank into the soft grass. The airplane spun around and the left wing  hit the ground.

A contemporary newspaper reported:

   Miss Nichols had expected to fly at an average speed of 200 miles an hour and be the first woman to cross the continent without a stop. On her way to Burbank, Cal., she was to drop Hoover leaflets.

     The plane was loaded with 32 gallons of oil besides 650 gallons of gasoline. With Floyd Bennet [sic] Field lighted by the 4,000,000-candlepower flood light at the south end of the field, she started from the south end of he runway.

     After speeding about 700 feet along the concrete runway the plane got out of control and switched off the concrete on to the grass. The girl flier tried desperately to steer it back to the runway, realized that here efforts would be in vain and to avoid an explosion cut off the ignition and pulled the stick.

     The plane went into a loop and rolled over on its side, the left wing burying itself in the ground. The wing, running gears and left side of the fuselage were wrecked. Gasoline spurted in great streams from the fuel tank, forming large pools.

     The small group of observers rushed in alarm to the wrecked plane. . . An ambulance, posted on the field for a possible emergency, hurried to the side of the plane.

     Before they reached it Miss Nichols stepped out, exasperated but smiling and unhurt.

     “Can’t hurt an old hand like me,’ she said. She added later that she was ‘through’ with night flying.

     The plane was the same in which Miss Nichols had attempted a transatlantic flight when it crashed in New Brunswick, Canada. At that time, she suffered a spine injury.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Vol. XCII, No. 306, Thursday, 3 November 1932, Page 2, column 7

Ruth Nichols’ Lockheed Vega. (FAI)

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.

Designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee, the Vega 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 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 techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

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).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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25–27 October 1931

Ruth Rowland Nichols (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale 12430–1)

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 Rowland Nichols’ Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, NR496M. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale 12340–2)

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

Ruth Rowland Nichols with “Akita,” the Crosley Radio Corporation’s Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, NR496M. Note the Detroit Aircraft Corporation/Lockheed Aircraft Company logo on the tail fin. Thanks to Tim Bradley Imaging for the digital restoration of this photograph. (NASM-NAM-A-45905-A)

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’ Lockheed Vega crashed at St. John, New Brunswick, 22 June 1931.

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)

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22 June 1931

Ruth Rowland Nichols with “Akita,” the Crosley Radio Corporation’s Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, NR496M. Note the Detroit Aircraft Corporation/Lockheed Aircraft Company logo on the tail fin. Thanks to Tim Bradley Imaging for the digital restoration of this photograph. (NASM-NAM-A-45905-A)

22 June 1931: In the late 1920s through mid-1930s, Miss Ruth Rowland Nichols was one of the best-known American women in aviation. She was the only person to have simultaneously held world records for speed, distance and altitude.

Miss Nichols planned to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On the afternoon of 22 June 1931, she took off from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, to stage for the transatlantic flight at Harbor Grace, Dominion of Newfoundland, making an intermediate stop at Saint John, New Brunswick, Dominion of Canada.

Nichols was flying a Lockheed Model 5 Vega, 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.

While landing at the Saint John airport in Millidgeville, her plans went awry. . .

Nichols’ crash near St. John, New Brunswick, 22 June 1931. Everyone in the photo is looking at the camera. 🙂

Miss Nichols wrote about it in Wings For Life:

   As I peered down at a tiny airport set like a bowl in the midst of surrounding wooded hills and cliffs, I thought at first I must be off course—this couldn’t be the St. Johns field. . .

     Twice I circled, studying the small, rock-enclosed field from every angle. How on earth could the heavy, fast Lockheed land there? Those crossed runways would be safe only for small or lightly-loaded planes. . .

     Because of the wind direction, I would have to use the shorter of the two runways—and even the longer one was inadequate. I flew back over the town, then headed back toward the airport while cutting the throttle to minimum flying speed.

     I slid in over the trees and edged through a narrow ravine. So far, so good. Maybe my luck was holding. Dead ahead was the runway. I made an S turn for the proper approach and headed straight into the blinding rays of the sun. I couldn’t look ahead to gauge the length of the runway, because ahead was a fiery glare. Only by staring down through the cockpit window could I see even the edge of the runway. . .

     Suddenly the dazzling blaze of the sun was doused by the shadow of a cliff and I saw to my horror that I had passed the intersection and still had flying speed. . .

     . . . then came a splintering crack as the tail broke through the treetops. More rocks ahead—a deafening shuddering C-R-A-S-H—then paralyzing silence. From seventy miles an hour minimum climbing speed with a load the motor impacted to a dead stop. The whole back end of the ship must be coming over on top of me, relentlessly bearing down, pushing my head and shoulders down between my knees.

     Splintering pain, and the silence of catastrophe.

Wings for Life, by Ruth Nichols, J.B. Lippincott, Philadephia, 1957

Nichols’ Lockheed Vega crashed at St. John, New Brunswick, 22 June 1931.

Ruth Nichols suffered five fractured vertebrae and would spend months recovering. The airplane would be repaired. This was not the first time the Vega had been damaged, nor would it be the last.

A contemporary newspaper reported the accident:

. . . She had left New York at 3:22 P.M. and it was just 3 hours and 48 minutes later that she cracked up, at 7:10 P.M., New York time.

     A great crowd had gathered at the St. John airport to see her land. She had announced her intention of spending the night there and proceeding to Harbor Grace, N. F., tomorrow.

Blinded by Sun.

     Her plane hove into sight and took a long graceful slant downward to alight. Then, as she straightened out to land, the sun shone full into her eyes. For just one second she was blinded and in that second overshot the runway and nosed over.

     Mechanics at the field awaited the arrival of Col. Clarence Chamberlin, Miss Nichols’ technical adviser, to decide what could be done for the plane.

Daily News, Vol. 12, No. 310, Tuesday, 23 June 1931, at Page 13, Column 1

Miss Nichols did not make the solo transatlantic flight. That would take place the following Spring. The pilot would be Miss Amelia Mary Earhart.

Ruth Rowland Nichols

Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr.

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).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 April 1931

Ruth Nichols with her Lockheed Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)
Ruth Nichols with the Lockheed Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)

13 April 1931: Ruth Rowland Nichols set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 338.99 kilometers per hour (210.64 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Carlton, Minnesota.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 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 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 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).

“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.

Ruth Nichols' records are painted on the engine cowling of her Lockheed Vega. (FAI)
Ruth Nichols’ records are painted on the engine cowling of her Lockheed Vega. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12282

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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