Tag Archives: Transoceanic Flight

4 October 1958

This is the first BOAC DH.106 Comet 4, G-APDA. It made its first flight 27 April 1958. (BOAC)
This is the first BOAC DH.106 Comet 4, G-APDA. It made its first flight 27 April 1958. (BOAC)

4 October 1958: The first regularly scheduled transatlantic passenger service with jet powered aircraft began when two British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) de Havilland DH.106 Comet 4 airliners, civil registrations G-APDB and G-APDC, left nearly simultaneously from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Idlewild Airport (IDL), New York, and from New York to London.

The west-to-east flight, (G-APDB) commanded by Captain Thomas Butler (Tom) Stoney, D.F.C., departed New York at 7:01 a.m., local time, with Basil Smallpiece and Aubrey Burke, managing directors of BOAC and de Havilland, respectively, on board. Benefiting from more favorable winds, the eastbound flight took just 6 hours, 12 minutes, averaging 565 miles per hour (909 kilometers per hour).

Passengers board BOAC's DH.106 Comet 4, G-APDC, at London Heathrow Airport, 4 October 1958. (Telegraph)
Passengers board BOAC’s DH.106 Comet 4, G-APDC, at London Heathrow Airport, 4 October 1958. (Telegraph.co.uk)

The east-to-west airliner, G-APDC, departed Heathrow at 8:45 a.m., London time, under the command of Captain R.E. Millichap, with Sir Gerard d’Erlanger, chairman of BOAC, and 31 passengers aboard. The westbound flight took 10 hours, 20 minutes, including a 1 hour, 10 minute fuel stop at Gander Airport (YQX), Newfoundland.

These two airliners had been delivered to BOAC on 30 September 1958. They were both configured to carry 48 passengers.

The first two de Havilland DH.106 Comet 4 airliners are delivered to BOAC at Heathrow, 30 September 1958. (Daily Mail Online)
The first two de Havilland DH.106 Comet 4 airliners are delivered to BOAC at Heathrow, 30 September 1958. (Daily Mail Online)

The DH.106 Comet 4 was operated by a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator/radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airliner was 111 feet, 6 inches (33.985 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters) to the top of the vertical fin. Maximum takeoff weight of 156,000 pounds (70,760 kilograms).

Power was supplied by four Rolls-Royce Avon 524 (RA.29) turbojet engines, rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m., each. The RA.29 was Rolls-Royce’s first commercial turbojet engine. It was a single-spool, axial-flow jet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The Mk.524 variant was 10 feet, 4.8 inches (3.170 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,226 pounds (1,463 kilograms).

The Comet 4 had a maximum speed of 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour), a range of 3,225 miles (5,190 kilometers) and a ceiling of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

De Havilland DH-106 Comet 4 G-APDB (“Delta Bravo”) made it’s final flight on 12 February 1974, having flown 36,269 hours, with 15,733 landings. It is part of the Duxford Aviation Society’s British Air Liner Collection at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England.

G-APDC did not fare as well. It was scrapped in April 1975.

DH.106 Comet 4 G-APDC, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1950 (V.C. Brown via AussieAirliners)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 4 G-APDC, Christchurch Airport, New Zealand. (V.C. Brown via AussieAirliners)
Capt. T.B. Stoney OBE
Capt. T.B. Stoney

Captain Stoney had served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War II. In 1942, as a Pilot Officer assigned to No. 58 Squadron, Bomber Command, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and promoted to Flying Officer. Ten years later, Captain Stoney was in command of BOAC’s Canadair DC-4M-4 Argonaut, Atalanta, G-ALHK, when it brought Queen Elizabeth II home from Kenya to accede to the throne.¹ Captain R.E. Millichap was also a member of the flight crew. Later that year, Stoney flew the new Queen back to Africa aboard a DH.106 Comet 1. T.B. Stoney was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1960.

¹ FLIGHT, 19 December 1952, Page 770, Column 1

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 September 1936

beryl Markham stands at The entrance to the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936.
Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Unattributed)

4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue-and-silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham, serial number K.34, was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.

Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters).

The Vega Gull was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Gypsy Six I weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).

John E. Carberry's brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend.
John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)

John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.

Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”

Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run. Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).

Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, registration VP-KCC, in flight over England, sometime between 15 August–4 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)

From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.

During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.

“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .

“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’

“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.

“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”

 Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morningby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.

The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was briefly knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.

Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.

Beryl Markham's solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Beliene, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.

Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 August 1927: The Dole Air Race

The start of the Dole Air Race, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The start of the Dole Air Race at Oakland Field, California, 16 August 1927. In starting position is Oklahoma. Waiting, left to right, are Aloha, Dallas Spirit, Miss Doran, Woolaroc, El Encanto, Golden Eagle, Air King and Pabco Flyer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
DOLE, James Drummond, by Hartsook, 28 June 1927
James Drummond Dole, 28 June 1927, by Hartsook

16 August 1927:  Not long after Charles A. Lindbergh had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean, James D. Dole, founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (HAPCO, now the Dole Foods Company, Inc., Westlake Village, California) offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilots to fly from Oakland Field, Oakland, California, to Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. A $10,000 prize was offered for a second-place finisher.

There were 33 entrants and 14 were selected for starting positions. After accidents and inspections by the race committee, finalists were down to eight.

Accidents began to claim the lives of entrants before the race even began. A Pacific Aircraft Company J-30 (also known as the Tremaine Hummingbird) flown by Lieutenants George D. Covell and Richard S. Waggener, U.S. Navy, named The Spirit of John Rodgers, crashed into the cliffs of Point Loma in heavy fog 15 minutes after takeoff from North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, California, enroute to Oakland Field. Both naval officers were killed. They had drawn starting position 13. Arthur V. Rogers was killed after takeoff from Montebello, California, in his Bryant Monoplane, Angel of Los Angeles. One airplane, Miss Doran, made an emergency landing in a farm field, and a fourth, Pride of Los Angeles, crashed into San Francisco Bay while on approach to Oakland. The occupants of those two airplanes were unhurt.

Wreckage of the Pacific Aircraft J-30, Spirit of John Rodgers, at Point Loma, 10 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreckage of the Pacific Aircraft J-30, The Spirit of John Rodgers, at Point Loma, 10 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 
Spirit of Los Angeles, an International F-10 triplane, crashed on approach to Oakland. The crew were not hurt. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Spirit of Los Angeles, an International Aircraft Corporation F-10 triplane, crashed on approach to Oakland Field. The crew were not hurt. I.A.C. advertised its products as “Airplanes That Fly Themselves”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The first airplane to take off from Oakland for the Dole Air Race was Oklahoma, a Travel Air 5000, NX911. The crowd of spectators was estimated to number 50,000–100,000 people. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives.
The first airplane to take off from Oakland for the Dole Air Race was Oklahoma, a Travel Air 5000, NX911. The crowd of spectators was estimated to number 50,000–100,000 people. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. 

By the morning of 16 August, there were eight entrants. There starting positions had been selected by a random draw. A little before 11:00 a.m., the first airplane, a Travel Air 5000, registered NX911 and named Oklahoma, took off but soon aborted the flight because of engine trouble. El Encanto, a Goddard Special, NX5074, crashed on takeoff. A Breese-Wilde Monoplane, Pabco Flyer, NX646, crashed on takeoff. The crews of these three airplanes were not hurt.

The Goddard Special, NX5074, El Encanto, which had been favored to win the race, crashed on takeoff. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Goddard Special, NX5074, El Encanto, which had been favored to win the race, crashed on takeoff. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Lockheed Vega 1, Golden Eagle, NX913, takes off from Oakland, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Lockheed Vega 1, Golden Eagle, NX913, takes off from Oakland, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The next airplane to take off was Golden Eagle, the prototype Lockheed Vega. Registered NX913, it was flown by Jack Frost with Gordon Scott as the navigator. It soon disappeared to the west.

The Lockheed was followed by the Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan, NX2915, named Miss Doran. Repairs from its unscheduled landing in the farmer’s field had been accomplished. It was flown by John “Auggy” Pedlar with Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, U.S. Navy, as navigator. Also aboard was a passenger, Miss Mildred Doran, the airplane’s namesake. She was a 23-year-old fifth-grade school teacher from Flint, Michigan, who knew William Malloska, owner of the Lincoln Petroleum Company (later, CITGO) and convinced him to enter an airplane in the Dole Air Race and allow her to fly along. Two local air circus pilots reportedly flipped a coin for the chance to fly the airplane. Auggy Pedlar won the toss. Just ten minutes after takeoff from Oakland Field, Miss Doran returned with engine problems.

Next off was Dallas Spirit, a Swallow Special, NX941, with William P. Erwin, pilot and Alvin H. Eichwaldt, navigator. It also quickly returned to Oakland.

The Travel Air 5000 NX896, Woolaroc, being prepared for the Trans-Pacifc flight at Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. The airplane has been placed in flight attitude for calibration of its navigation instruments and to be certain the fuel tanks are filled to capacity. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Travel Air 5000 NX896, Woolaroc, being prepared for the Trans-Pacific flight at Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. The airplane has been placed in flight attitude for calibration of its navigation instruments and to be certain the fuel tanks are filled to capacity. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The last two entrants, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane, NX914, Aloha, with Martin Jensen, pilot, and Paul Schluter, navigator, and Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000 took off without difficulty.

Miss Doran made a second attempt and took off successfully. Pabco Flyer also tried again, crashing a second time.

Miss Moran, Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan NC2915, takes off from Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Miss Doran, Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan NX2915, takes off from Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Woolaroc, the Travel Air 500, NX869, arrives at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 17 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum archives)
Woolaroc, the Travel Air 5000, NX869, arrives at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 17 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum archives)

Woolaroc, with Arthur C. Goebel as pilot and William J. Davis, Jr., as navigator, flew across the Pacific and arrived at Honolulu after 26 hours, 17 minutes, to win the race. Aloha arrived after 28 hours, 16 minutes.

Arthur C. Goebel won the Dole Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Arthur C. Goebel won the Dole Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Golden Eagle and Miss Doran never arrived. A search by more than forty ships of the United States Navy was unsuccessful. Dallas Spirit was repaired and Erwin and Eichwaldt took off to join the search for their competitors. They, too, were never seen again.

Lieutenant (j.g) George D. Covell, U.S. navy, and Lieutenat R.S. Waggener, U.S. Navy, were killed when their airplane crashed in fog, 10 August 1927, while flying to Oakland to join the Dole Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Lieutenant (j.g) George D. Covell, U.S. Navy, and Lieutenant R.S. Waggener, U.S. Navy, were killed when their airplane crashed in fog, 10 August 1927, while flying to Oakland to join the Dole Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Arthur V. Rogers was killed 11 August 1927, shortly after taking off on a test flight for his Dole Air Race entry, pride of Los Angeles, a twin-engine Bryant monoplane, NX705. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Arthur V. Rogers was killed 11 August 1927, shortly after taking off on a test flight for his Dole Air Race entry, Pride of Los Angeles, a twin-engine Bryant monoplane, NX705. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The crew of Miss Moran, left to right, Auggy Pedlar, Mildred Doran and Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, U.S. Navy. (Sand Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The crew of Miss Doran, left to right, John “Auggy” Pedlar, Mildred Doran and Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, United States Navy. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 
Miss Mildred Doran. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Miss Mildred Doran: “Life is nothing but a chance.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 
John W. "Jack" Frost and Gordon Scott, crew of Golden Eagle. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
John W. “Jack” Frost and Gordon Scott, crew of Golden Eagle. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Alvin H. Eichwaldt, navigator, and William P. Erwin, pilot, took their repaired Dallas Spirit to join the search for Golden Eagle and Miss Moran. They, too, disappeared over the Pacific ocean, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Alvin H. Eichwaldt, navigator, and William P. Erwin, pilot, took their repaired Dallas Spirit to join the search for Golden Eagle and Miss Moran. They, too, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Swallow Monoplane NX914, Dallas Spirit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Swallow Special NX914, Dallas Spirit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 July 1938, 04:11 GCT [Greenwich Civil Time]

Pan American Martin M-130 Flying boat, NX14714, 9 September 1935. (Glenn L. Martin Co.)
Pan American Martin M-130 Flying boat, NX14714, 9 September 1935. (Lockheed Martin)

29 July 1938: At 12:08 p.m., local time, the Pan American Airways flying boat Hawaii Clipper lifted off from the waters of Apra Harbor on the west side of Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean. The Clipper was on a planned 12½ hour flight to Manila in the Philippine Islands. On board were a crew of nine, with six passengers.

Hawaii Clipper never arrived at its destination. What happened to it and the fifteen persons on board remains one of the enduring mysteries of aviation history.

The flight was designated Trip #229. It had originated at Alameda, on San Francisco Bay, California, and flew to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands, then on to Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam.

The Pan Am crew consisted of Captain Leo Terletzky, First Officer Mark A. Walker, Second Officer George M. Davis, Third Officer Jose M. Sauceda, Fourth Officer John W. Jewett, Engineer Officer Howard l. Cox, Assistant Engineer Officer T.B. Tatum, and Radio Officer William McGarty. The passengers were attended by Flight Steward Ivan Parker.

Captain Terletzky held a Transport Pilot’s License issued by the Aeronautics Branch of the United States Department of Commerce. He had flown more that 9,200 hours, and 1,614 hours in the Martin M-130.

Captain Terletzky's Transport Pilot License, issued 13 February 1930.
Captain Terletzky’s Transport Pilot’s License, issued 13 February 1930. (The Pan Am Historical Foundation)
Leo Terletzky (Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register)

Captain Terletzky (there are alternate spellings, such as Terletsky, and he was also known as Leo Terlitz) was born 18 January 1894 at Odessa, Imperial Russia (now, Ukraine).

Following the Russian Revolution, he left his native country and traveled to Omsk, Siberia, and then to Yokohama, Japan, where he embarked on S.S. Empress of Japan, on 28 March 1919. The passenger liner arrived at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 6 April. He then traveled on to Seattle, Washington, via the Canadian Pacific Railroad, arriving there on 9 April 1919.

Terletzky became a naturalized citizen of the United States, 15 December 1924. On 1 July 1919, he married Miss Helen Sarepta Bowman at Miami Beach, Florida.

Canadian Pacific passenger liner S.S. Empress of Japan, passing First Narrows, seen from Brockton Point, looking north. This ship made 315 Pacific crossings. (Major James Skitt Matthews)

The airliner’s six passengers were: Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Wyman, United States Naval Reserve, of Bronxville, New York. Commander Wyman was the former assistant to Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airways. He was now employed by Curtiss-Wright. Pan American’s traffic manager, Kenneth A. Kennedy, was also on board.  Colonel Earl E. McKinley, M.D., United States Army Reserve, Dean of Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., a bacteriologist, and Fred C. Meier, Ph.D., were collecting airborne bacteriological samples to research transocean bacterial transfer. Major Howard C. French, Air Corps, United States Army (Reserve), the commanding officer of the 321st Observer Squadron based at Vancouver, Washington. Finally, there was Choy Wah Sun (also known as “Watson Choy”), of New Jersey. Mr. Choy was believed to be transporting $3,000,000 in U.S. Gold Certificates for the Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party of China, which was headed by Chiang Kai-shek.

A United States $10,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1934. (Bureau of Engraving and Printing)

Hawaii Clipper was a Martin M-130, NC14714. It was the first of three of the type built for Pan American Airways. With the experimental registration NX14714, it had made its first flight at Middle River, Maryland, 30 December 1934.

When Hawaii Clipper departed Alameda, it had flown 4,751:55 hours, TTAF. When it made its last position report, it had flown another 55 hours, 58 minutes.

The first Martin M-130, NC14714, undergoing ground testing at the Glenn L. Martin Co. plant at Middle River, Maryland, 30 November 1934. (Lockheed Martin)

The Martin M-130 was a large, four-engine flying boat of all-metal construction, designed to carry as many as 36 passengers on transoceanic flights. The M-130 was 90 feet, 10.5 inches (27.699 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 0 inches (39.624 meters). It was 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) high. The flying boat had a maximum takeoff weight of 52,252 pounds (23,701 kilograms).

The M-130 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S2A5-G had a Normal Power rating of 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. to 3,600 feet (1,097 meters), and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane gasoline. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S2A5-G was 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.442 meters) long, 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), and a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its range was 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers).

A pair of Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boats at Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. (Hawaii Aviation)
A pair of Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boats at Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. (Hawaii Aviation)

Hawaii Clipper departed its mooring at Apra Harbor at 11:39 a.m., local time (3:39 a.m., Manila time) and lifted off 29 minutes later. In addition to its six passengers, the airliner was carrying 1,138 pounds (516 kilograms) of cargo. The duration of the flight was estimated as 12 hours, 30 minutes. The M-130 carried sufficient fuel for 17 hours, 30 minutes of flight. Its gross weight was 49,894 pounds (22,632 kilograms) at takeoff, well under its maximum takeoff weight.

At 04:11 Greenwich Civil Time (12:11 p.m., local time), Radio Officer McGarty sent Hawaii Clipper‘s coded 04:00 Ded Reckoning ² position report. The deciphered message read:

Flying in rough air at 9,100 feet. Temperature 13 ˚C., wind 19 knots from 247˚ Position N. 12˚27, E 130˚40, ground speed made good, 112 knots, desired track 282˚. Rain. During past hour conditions varied. 10/10ths sky above covered by strato cumulus clouds, base 9,200 feet. Clouds below 10/10ths sky covered by cumulus clouds whose tops were 9,200 feet. 5/10ths of the hour on instruments. Last DF bearing from Manila 101˚

This placed the Clipper approximately 582 nautical miles (670 kilometers) east southeast of Manila. The transmission was acknowledged. When the land-based radio operator tried to make contact one minute later to provide updated weather information, he received no reply. There were no further radio transmissions received.

When Hawaii Clipper did not arrive at Manila, a large ocean search was begun. On 30 July, the Unites States Army transport ship USAT Meigs discovered an oil slick approximately 28 nautical miles (52 kilometers) south southeast of the flying boat’s last reported position. The slick was described as being approximately 1,500 feet (457 meters) in circumference.

No physical evidence of the Martin M-130 has ever been found. What happened to cause its disappearance is unknown.

While it is assumed that the airplane went down at sea, that might not have been the case.

A telephone company employee on Lahuy Island (a small island of the coast of Luzon, east southeast of Manila) reported having heard a large airplane above clouds at 3 p.m. Manila Time. In 1938, the number of large airplanes operating in the Philippine Islands must have been fairly limited.

As with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan the previous year, there was no shortage of “conspiracy theories.” An example is that agents of the Empire of Japan had stowed away aboard Hawaii Clipper, hijacked the airplane and it was flown to Ulithi, and then Truk. The story goes on the the passengers and crew were murdered and their bodies were buried under the foundation of a hospital under construction.

Kawanishi H6K Type 97 Large Flying Boat.

Another story is that the Clipper was intercepted by a Japanese flying boat, such as the Kawanishi H6K Type 97 Large Flying Boat, which forced it to an unknown destination, similar to the story above.

Only six months earlier, another Pan American flying boat, Samoan Clipper, a Sikorsky S-42B, NC16734, disappeared about two hours out of Pago Pago. The airliner is believed to have exploded in midair. In that case, an oil slick and wreckage were found.

¹ Following the United States’ entry into World War II, Captain Terletzky’s widow, Mrs. Sarepta B. Terletzky, (née Helen Sarepta Bowman), a graduate of Smith College, joined the United States Navy. She was commissioned as a Lieutenant, W-VS, United States Naval Reserve, 4 August 1942. On 1 December 1945, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, and to commander, 1 January 1950. Mrs. Terletzky had been born at New York City, New York, 28 September 1895. She died at Miami, Florida, 4 August 1970.

² Ded Reckoning (Deductive Reckoning, often erroneously referred to as “dead reckoning,” is a method of navigation which uses a previously known position, time of flight, estimated speed of the aircraft based on forecast weather conditions, etc., to estimate the current geographical position. It is the standard method of navigation in the absence of radio aids or satellite position.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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