12 August 1930: Frank Monroe Hawks flew from Los Angeles Municipal Airport in California to Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, in a record-breaking 12 hours, 25 minutes, 3 seconds. His airplane was a Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship” named Texaco No. 13. It carried civil registration NR1313.
One week earlier, 6 August 1930, Hawks had flown across the continent from east to west, in 14 hours, 50 minutes 3 seconds. More favorable winds allowed the Type R to make a faster west-to-east flight.
Hawks’ Texaco No. 13 was the fourth of five specially designed and constructed racing aircraft produced by Travel Air Manufacturing Company of Wichita, Kansas. The company was founded by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman. The “Type R” refers to one of its designers, Herb Rawdon.
The Type R was a low-wing monoplane with a monocoque fuselage built of plywood. The very thin wing was braced by wires. Attempts to streamline the airplane included a raised profile behind the pilot’s head, “wheel pants,” as well as a NACA-designed engine cowling that provided better engine cooling and caused less aerodynamic drag.
The Mystery Ship was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Whirlwind Nine (also known as the J-6-9 or R-975) nine-cylinder radial engine, normally rated at 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Various sources state that Hawks’ R-975 had been modified by increasing its compression ratio and supercharger speed, and that it produced 400 horsepower, or more. The R-975 was built in both direct drive and geared versions.
One of the fastest airplanes of its time, the Type R set over 200 speed records.
Newspapers called the Type R airplanes “mystery ships” because Beech was very secretive about them. When two of them were flown to the 1929 National Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio, they taxied directly to a hangar and shut off their engines. They were immediately pushed inside. The hangar was kept locked and under guard.
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. His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mystery Pilot.”
Frank Hawks’ Type R is in the collection of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.
24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart was born at Atchison, Kansas. She was the older of two daughters of Edwin Stanton Earhart, an attorney, and Amelia Otis Earhart.
Amelia attended Hyde Park School in Chicago, Illinois, graduating in 1916. In 1917, she trained as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross. While helping victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic, she herself contracted the disease and was hospitalized for approximately two months. In 1919 Earhart entered Columbia University studying medicine, but left after about one year.
Amelia first rode in an airplane at Long Beach, California with pilot Frank Monroe Hawks, 28 December 1920. The ten-minute flight began her life long pursuit of aviation. She trained under Mary Anita Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California.
Earhart was the sixteenth woman to become a licensed pilot when she received her certificate from the National Aeronautic Association on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 16 May 1923.
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied pilot Wilmer Lower Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard the Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NX4204, Friendship, 17–18 June 1928. The orange and gold, float-equipped, three-engine monoplane had departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and arrived at Burry Port on the southwest coast of Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later. (Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience at this time, she did not serve as one of the pilots on this flight.)
On 1 May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, issued Transport Pilot’s License No. 5716 to Amelia Mary Earhart. On 25 June 1930, the newly-licensed commercial pilot set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers With a 500 Kilogram Payload, averaging 275.90 kilometers per hour (171.44 miles per hour) with her Lockheed Vega.¹ That same day, she set another World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers of 281.47 kilometers per hour (174.90 miles per hour).² About two weeks later, Earhart increased her Vega’s speed across a shorter, 3 kilometer course, with an average 291.55 kilometers per hour (181.16 miles per hour).³
Amelia Earhart was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization of licensed women pilots. She served as their first president, 1931–1933.
On 7 February 1931, Miss Earhart married George Palmer Putnam in a civil ceremony at Noank, Connecticut. Judge Arthur P. Anderson presided. In a written prenuptial agreement, Miss Earhart expressed serious misgivings about marrying Mr. Putnam, and stated: “. . . I shall not hold you to any midevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.”
Earhart had her own line of women’s fashions, made from wrinkle-free fabrics. She modeled for her own advertisements. In November 1931, Earhart was the subject of a series of photographs by Edward Steichen for Vogue, an American fashion magazine.
At Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931, Amelia Earhart (now, Mrs. George P. Putnam) flew a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro to an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet). Although a sealed barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association for certification of a record, NAA does not presently have any documentation that the record was actually homologated.
On the night of 20–21 May 1932, Amelia Earhart flew her Vega 5B from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, solo and non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean to Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes. On 18 July 1932, Earhart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Herbert Hoover, for “extraordinary achievement in aviation.”
Earhart next flew her Vega non-stop from Los Angeles, California, to New York City, New York, 24–25 August 1932, setting an FAI record for distance without landing of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles).⁴ Her Lockheed Vega 5B, which she called her “little red bus,” is displayed in the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
At 4:40 p.m., local time, 11 January 1935, 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.
Amelia Earhart is best known for her attempt to fly around the world with navigator Frederick J. Noonan in her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, in 1937. She disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937. The massive search effort for her and her navigator failed, and what happened to her and Noonan remains a mystery.
Although the exact date of her death is not known, Amelia Mary Earhart (Mrs. George Palmer Putnam) was declared dead in absentia by the Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, 5 January 1939. (Probate file 181709)
16 July 1957: At 6:04 a.m., Major John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, in a single-engine Vought F8U-1P Crusader, Bureau Number 144608. 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds later, he landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. Over the 2,360 mile (3,798 kilometer) route, he averaged 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). This was the first supersonic transcontinental flight.
The purpose of “Project Bullet” was “. . . to test the sustained capability of the F8U at near maximum power over a long distance.” The Crusader’s average speed was faster than the muzzle velocity of a .45-caliber bullet, hence the project name.
Glenn’s aircraft was a photo-reconnaissance variant of the Navy’s F8U-1E carrier-based supersonic fighter. Rather than guns and missiles, it was equipped with six cameras that took panoramic images over the entire route. Though it carried more fuel than the fighter version, the Crusader still required three aerial refuelings to cover the distance. To rendezvous with the North American AJ-1 Savage air tankers, he had to slow and descend by deploying an air brake. After tanking, Glenn accelerated with afterburner and climbed back to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). As fuel burned off, he gradually rose to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
After the completion of the flight, Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer, tore down the J57-P-4A turbojet for an engineering inspection. As a result, all previous power limitations were lifted.
Bu. No. 144608 continued in active service with the Navy and was flown in combat with VFP-63 during the Vietnam War. On 13 December 1972, while landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), the Crusader struck the ramp of the flight deck and damaged its landing gear. It slid across the deck, severed the arresting cables and went over the side. The pilot, Lieutenant T.B. Scott, ejected safely but the record-setting fighter was lost in the South China Sea.
John Glenn was the Navy/Marine Corps project officer for the Crusader. According to information recently discovered by The Museum of Flight, Glenn made his first flight in a Crusader when he flew the prototype XF8U-1, Bu. No. 138899, on 4 May 1956. According to Glenn’s logbook, he made two flights in the prototype on that date, totaling 2 hours of flight time. Many thanks to Mike Martinez, a docent for the Museum for providing this information.
Soon after Project Bullet, John H. Glenn was selected for Project Mercury. On the third manned flight of the program, he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. He was later elected a United States Senator from his home state of Ohio. At the age of 77, John Glenn flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-95, 29 October–7 November 1998, becoming the oldest person to fly in space.
11 July 1935: At 5:31 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, (01:31 UTC) Laura Houghtaling Ingalls took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, and flew non-stop across the North American continent to the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. She landed there at 8:51 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (19:31 UTC). Her airplane was a single-engine Lockheed Model 9D Orion, registration NR14222, which she had named Auto da Fé (“act of faith” or “act of penance”).
Ingalls was the first woman to fly across the country from East to West. In 5 October 1930, she flew a de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth from Roosevelt Field to Grand central Air Terminal at Glendale Calif, arriving 9 October. The flight required nine fuel stops, and took 30 hours and 27 minutes over four days.
The elapsed time of her non-stop 1935 transcontinental flight was 18 hours, 20 minutes, 30 seconds.
Laura Ingalls had taken delivery of the Orion 9D Special at Lockheed, Burbank, California, five months earlier. Contemporary newspaper reports said that the “Black Mystery Ship” cost $45,000.
The Lockheed Model 9 Orion was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, designed in 1931 by Gerard Vultee for airline use and was capable of carrying six passengers in an enclosed cabin. The Orion was the first commercial airliner with retractable landing gear and was faster than any military airplane in service at the beginning of the decade. Like other Lockheed aircraft of the time, it was constructed of strong, light-weight, molded plywood, but the Orion was Lockheed’s last wooden airplane.
The Lockheed Orion 9D was 28 feet, 4 inches (8.64 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¼ inches (13.04 meters) and height of 9 feet, 8 inches (2.95 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,640 pounds (1,651 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,200 pounds (2,359 kilograms).
Auto da Fé was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S1D1 nine-cylinder radial engine, rated 525 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (takeoff and normal power rating). The engine had a compression ratio of 6:1. The S1D1 was a direct-drive engine, which turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propeller. The Wasp S1D1 was 4 feet, 3.438 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, 3 feet, 6.625 inches (1.083 meters) long and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).
The cruise speed of the Orion was 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. It had a range of 750 miles (1,159 kilometers) in standard configuration. The service ceiling was 22,000 feet (6,705 meters).
Ingall’s airplane carried 630 gallons (2,384.8 liters) of gasoline and 40 gallons (151.4 liters) of engine oil. NR14222 was equipped with a Sperry Gyro Pilot and a Westport radio compass and receiver for navigation.
After departing Floyd Bennett Field, Ingalls flew along a commercial airway marked with radio beacons. Her route of flight was from Brooklyn, New York to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—Columbus, Ohio—Indianapolis, Indiana—Kansas City, Missouri—Albuquerque, New Mexico—Burbank, California. This was only the third time that a non-stop transcontinental flight had been accomplished.
23 June 1924: Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army, took off from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, at 3:58 a.m., Eastern Time, and flew across the country to land at Crissy Field, at the Presidio of San Francisco, California at 9:46 p.m., Pacific Time. He covered a distance of 2,670 miles (4,297 kilometers) in 21 hours, 47 minutes. Maughan’s actual flight time was 20 hours, 48 minutes. He averaged 128.37 miles per hour (206.59 kilometers per hour).
His Dawn-To-Dusk transcontinental flight took place on a mid-summer day in order to take advantage of the longer hours of daylight, and he flew from East to West, to follow the advancing Sun across the sky.
Lieutenant Maughan made stops at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio; St. Joseph, Missouri; North Platte, Nebraska; Cheyenne, Wyoming and Salduro Siding, Utah. The stop at Dayton took 1 hour, 20 minutes when a mechanic over-tightened a fuel line fitting and damaged it. When he arrived at “Saint Joe” (St. Louis) the grass field was wet from rains, restricting his takeoff weight. Unable to carry a full load of fuel, he took off with a reduced load and then made a previously unplanned stop at North Platte, Nebraska, where he topped off his fuel tank.
Russell Maughan was an experienced combat pilot and test pilot. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during World War I, and he had competed in numerous air races and had set several speed records.
The airplane flown by Lieutenant Maughan was the fourth production Curtiss PW-8 Hawk, a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter, serial number A.S. 24-204. It was modified by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company at its Long Island, New York, factory. Curtiss removed the fighters’s two .30-caliber machine guns and added 100 gallons (378.5 liters) to the airplane’s standard fuel capacity of 77 gallons (291.5 liters).
The Curtiss PW-8 Hawk was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 1,145.111-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss D-12 dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which was developed by Arthur Nutt, based on the earlier Curtiss K-12 which had been designed by Charles B. Kirkham. The D-12 had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. During testing, it produced a 475 horsepower at 2,320 r.p.m. using a 50/50 mixture of 95-octane gasoline and benzol. The D-12 was a right-hand tractor direct-drive engine. It turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, forged aluminum propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The Curtiss D-12 was 56¾ inches (1.441 meters) long, 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide and 34¾ inches (0.882 meters) high. It weighed 678.25 pounds (307.65 kilograms).
The PW-8 had a cruise speed of 136 miles per hour (219 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 171 miles per hour (275 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling was 20,350 feet (6,203 meters) and its range was 544 miles (875 kilometers).
In the early years of military aviation, pilots undertook various dramatic flights to create public awareness of the capabilities military aircraft. Of this transcontinental flight, Maughan said, “The real reason for my flight across the United States in the sunlight hours of one day was that the chief of the Air Service wanted to show Congress just how unprotected are the people of the Pacific Coast.”
Curtiss PW-8 Hawk A.S. 24-204 was damaged beyond repair at Selfridge Field, Michigan, 11 May 1926.