Tag Archives: Transpacific Flight

3–4 November 1945

Boeing 314, California Clipper, NC18602, over Oakland, California, 1937. (Clyde Sunderland Photograph Collection, Library, University of California Berkeley)

3–4 November 1945: On the evening of Saturday, 3 November 1945, the Boeing 314 Honolulu Clipper, NC18601, departed Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute to San Francisco, California. The flying boat was under the command of Captain Sanis E. (“Robby”) Robbins, Pan American Airways, with First Officer Wally Reed, Second Officer Dunbar Carpenter, Radio Officer Jack B. Crawford, First Engineer Dan W. Broadwater, Second Engineer Robert J. Dernberger. There were 13 passengers and 10 crew members on board. The flight to San Francisco was expected to take 11 hours.

Approximately 5 hours into the flight, the number 3 engine (starboard wing, inboard) began to backfire. It was shut down and the propeller feathered. Captain Robbins decided to return to Hawaii. A short while later, the number 4 engine (starboard wing, outboard) also started to malfunction. It continued to run but eventually it was also shut down.

With two engines inoperative, the airplane was unable to maintain altitude. At 11:07 p.m. local, Captain Robbins, in total darkness, brought the flying boat to a “masterful”  landing on the relatively calm surface of the Pacific Ocean. There were no injuries. The airplane suffered minor damage to the port sea wing, and started taking on water.

California Clipper, NC18602, another Boeing 314, also enroute to San Francisco, orbited Honolulu Clipper‘s position to guide rescue ships to scene. The following message was broadcast from Pearl Harbor:

PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER DOWN AT SEA AT 040935Z POSITION 2749N 14802W. PLANE IN GOOD CONDITION. IS ABLE TO COMMUNICATE ON [frequency deleted] KCS VOICECALL C18601 ON [frequency deleted] KCS. INVESTIGATE SIGHTINGS REPORT PERTINENT INFO TO ORIGINATOR.

Freighter S.S. John Henry Payne sighted flares fired from the flying boat and quickly arrived on scene. The ship took all of the passengers on board. Ten crew stayed aboard flying boat.

USS Manila Bay (CVE 61), a Casablanca-class escort aircraft carrier under the command of Captain Leon Johnson, was approximately 60 miles (97 kilometers) away, and had been ordered to take charge of efforts to salvage the airplane.

On arrival, a whale boat was sent to remove the remaining crew members from the flying boat. Wind and waves had increased and it was feared that the boat might damage the hull of the flying boat, so a rubber life raft was used to transfer the Clipper‘s crew to the whale boat. Aircraft mechanics were sent from Manila Bay to attempt to repair the airplane, but were not successful.

A whale boat from USS Manila Bay approaches Honolulu Clipper, 4 November 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Plans were made to rig the airplane for towing. 200 fathoms (1,200 feet/366 meters) of 6-inch (15.2 centimeter) diameter hawser was rigged from the aircraft carrier to the nose of the flying boat. Stabilizing lines were tied to the propeller hubs of the outboard engines. Manila Bay began towing the Honolulu Clipper and was gradually able to increase speed to 6 knots (7 miles per hour/11 kilometers per hour). About an hour after sunset, at about 7:30 p.m., the tow line parted.

Darkness and rising seas made it impossible to rig a new tow. Manila Bay stood by awaiting arrival of USS San Pablo (AVP-30) (Commander Charles Robert Eisenbach), a Barnegat-class seaplane tender, on Tuesday, 6 January, then departed for Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane tender USS San Pablo (AVP-30) standing by Honolulu Clipper. (U.S. Navy)
USS San Pablo approaches the undamaged Honolulu Clipper. (U.S. Navy)

During the several days that Honolulu Clipper was afloat in the open ocean, weather increased to the point that it was considered too hazardous to approach it in a small boat, so the aviation tender closed on the airplane directly to try to take it on tow. Unfortunately, San Pablo hit the clipper and caused significant damage.

Hawaii Clipper from the bridge of USS San Pablo. The starboard wing is damaged and the Number 4 engine is missing. (U.S. Navy)

With salvage impossible, the derelict Honolulu Clipper was now considered a hazard to navigation. It was sunk by 20 mm gun fire from San Pablo.

Honolulu Clipper was the prototype for the Boeing Model 314 series flyjng boat. It had been designed to carry a maximum of 76 passengers and a crew of 10 a distance of 5,200 miles at 184 miles per hour. The design used the wings and engine nacelles of Boeing’s experimental Model 294 (XB-15) very long-range heavy bomber.

The Boeing Model 314 was a large four-engine, high-wing monoplane flying boat designed and built by the Boeing Airplane Company to take off and land on water. It was 106 feet (32.309 meters) long with a wingspan of 152 feet (46.330 meters). It had a maximum take off weight of 82,500 pounds (37,421 kilograms).

Boeing 314 prototype NX18601 in original configuration. (Boeing Airplane Company)

The airplane was built at Boeing’s Plant 1, then transported by Barge to Elliot Bay. It carried experimental registration NX18601. Test pilot Edmund Turney (“Eddie”) Allen made the first flight of the prototype on 7 June 1938. He reported that the flying boat had insufficient rudder control and that he had to vary engine power to turn it. The prototype was modified to a twin-tail configuration.

Boeing Model 314 NX18601 flying over Elliot Bay. Note the twin-tail configuration. (Boeing Airplane Company)

With two vertical fins and rudders, control was improved, but was still insufficient. A third, center, fin was added and this became the production configuration.

Prototype Boeing 314 NX18601 in triple-tail configuration, 24 November 1938. (U.S. Air Force/San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Boeing 314 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600A2, two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7.1:1. They were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,550 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 91/96 octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 14 feet (4.267 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The GR2600A2 was 5 feet, 2.06 inches (1.576 meters) long and 4 feet, 7 inches (1.387 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,935 pounds (878 kilograms). The engines could be serviced in flight, with access through the wings.

The Boeing 314 had a maximum speed of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), with a range of 3,685 miles (5,930 kilometers) at its normal cruising speed of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,400 feet (4,084 meters). The fuel capacity was 4,246 gallons (16,073 liters).

Boeing built six Model 314 and another six 314A flying boats for Pan American Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation. Pan Am paid $549,846.55 for each 314, about $9,545,726.07 in 2017 dollars, and Boeing lost money on every one sold.

Honolulu Clipper was leased to the United States Navy by Pan American Airways, 17 December 1942, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 48227. The airplane continued to be operated by Pan Am crews.

A Pan American Airways Boeing 314 at Hawaii. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Sanis E. (“Robby”) Robbins was born at Matthews, Indiana, 17 September 1898. He was the sixth of seven children of William S. Robbins, a real estate agent, and Sarah Ellen Brokaw Robbins.

Robbins enlisted as a Private, United States Army, at Camp Dodge, Iowa, 26 June 1916. He was promoted to Private First Class on 1 August 1916, and to Corporal, 18 December 1916. Corporal Robbins was hospitalized at Brownsville, Texas, 4–23 January 1917. He was released from military service at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, 20 February 1917, shortly before the United States entered World War I. A 1920 Air Service Information Circular listed Second Lieutenant Sanis E. Robbins as a pursuit pilot, residing at Cassia, Florida.

Robby Robbins married Miss Virginia J. Bing. They would have three children.

Robbins was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve, 15 September 1940. He held this rank until at least 1955.

Captain Sanis E. Robbins died at Palo Alto, California, 8 August 1961, at the age of 62 years. He was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Pan American Airways Boeing 314 NC18604, Atlantic Clipper, taking off. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3–5 October 1931

Hugh Herndon, jr. (left) and Clyde Pangborn in the cockpit of Miss Veedol, just before takeoff at Sabashiro Beach, Misawa, Honshu, Japan, 3 October 1931. (Aviation Museum)

3–5 October 1931: At 6:01 a.m., local time, 4 October (21:01, 3 October, Greenwich Mean Time), Clyde Edward Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, Jr., flying their Bellanca Skyrocket, Miss Veedol, took off from Sabashiro Beach, on the northern coast of the island of Honshu, Japan. Their destination was Seattle, Washington, 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers) across the North Pacific Ocean.

Pangborn and Herndon had been on an around-the-world flight, attempting to better the time recently set by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty. The flight was sponsored by Herndon and his mother, Alice Carter Herndon, heiress to the Tide Water Oil Company. Tide Water was the producer of the Veedol line of motor oils and lubricants, so the airplane was named Miss Veedol for public relations purposes.

Delays while traversing the Soviet Union made it impossible to beat the Post/Gatty record time, however, so the pair flew on to Japan, hoping to win prize money offered by several organizations for the first Transpacific flight. They landed in Japan on 8 August, and because they had done so without authorization, were held under house arrest for seven weeks.

Miss Veedol, a Bellanca CH-400 Skyrocket, NR796W, circa 1931. (Granville Oil)

On takeoff, Miss Veedol was seriously overloaded, carrying a reported 915 gallons (3,464 liters) of gasoline and 45 gallons (170 liters) of engine oil. Miss Veedol had been modified by Pangborn so that its landing gear could be dropped, reducing weight by approximately 300 pounds (136 kilograms). The decreased aerodynamic drag resulted in an increase in the airplane’s speed of approximately 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour). Dropping the landing gear would require a belly landing at the destination, however.

When it was time to jettison the landing gear, the mechanism failed, leaving two struts still attached to the airplane. Clyde Pangborn had to go outside the cockpit to remove them.

Pangborn and Herndon flew a Great Circle Course, and the first land that they encountered was Dutch Harbor, at the outer tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

The Pacific Northwest was shrouded in rain and fog, so the flyers changed their destination from Seattle to Boise, Idaho. Eventually, however, they decided to land at Wenatachee in eastern Washington State.

At 7:14 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, (14:14 G.M.T.), 5 October (they had crossed the International Date Line), Clyde Pangborne flew Miss Veedol onto the ground at Francher Field, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) northwest of Wenatchee. The total duration of their flight was 41 hours, 13 minutes (1 day, 18 hours, 13 minutes).

The airplane was slightly damaged in the belly landing but was later repaired.

Miss Veedol after belly-landing at Francher Field, near Wenatchee, Washington, 5 October 1931. (Unattributed)

For their accomplishment, Pangborn and Herndo, were awarded the the White Medal of Merit of the Imperial Aeronautical Society by Consul General Kensuke Horinouchi. The presentation took place at the Japanese consulate on 21 November 1931. The United States National Aeronautic Association awarded the two men its 1931 national Harmon Trophy.

Hugh Herndon, Jr. (left) and Clyde Edward Pangborne, with the damaged Miss Veedol, 5 October 1931. (Frank Kubo Collection, Densho Digital Repository)

Miss Veedol was a 1931 Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America CH-400 Skyrocket,¹ serial number 3004, registered  NR796W. The CH-400 was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry up to five passengers. The CH-400 was 27 feet, 10 inches (8.484 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 2,592 pounds (1,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,600 pounds (2,087 kilograms). Its fuel capacity was 120 gallons (454 liters). Miss Veedol had been modified to carry 620 gallons (2,347 liters) of fuel.

The CH-400 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level.² It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The production Skyrocket had a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 155 miles per hour (249 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and the normal range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

Bellanca built 32 CH-400 Skyrockets.

Miss Veedol was repaired and then sold to American Medical Researches, Inc., of New York City. It was repainted and renamed The American Nurse. While on a planned non-stop New York to Rome flight, 13 September 1932, NR796W disappeared. It was last sighted by the crew of S.S. Winnebago, an Anglo-American Oil Company bulk oil carrier, approximately 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) east of New York, at 11:50 p.m., British Summer Time, on the 13th. The pilot, two passengers, and a groundhog (Marmota monax) named Tailwind, were never seen again.

Clyde Edward Pangborn

Clyde Pangborn was one of the best-known aviators of the Interwar Period. Clyde Edward Pangborn was born 28 October 1894 ³ in Douglas County, Washington. He was the second son of Max Judson Pangborn and Francis Ola Lamb Pangborn, a dressmaker. During his early 20s, Pangborn was employed as a surveyor for the B. H. & S. Smelter at Kellogg, Idaho.

Pangborn enlisted as a Private, United States Army, 11 June 1918. He was trained as a pilot and, on completion, was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Service, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. He was assigned as a flight instructor at Ellington Field, southeast of Houston, Texas. While in the Air Service, Pangborn taught himself to fly an airplane inverted for extended periods, earning himself the nick-name, “Upside-Down Pangborn.” After the Armistice brought World War I to a close, Second Lieutenant Pangborn was released from service and honorably discharged, 21 May 1919.

Through the 1920s, Pangborn was a “barnstormer,” flying demonstrations and performing stunts (such as “wing walking”) and giving rides. Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps, took his very first flight in an airplane with Clyde Pangborn as the pilot.

On 22 October 1934, Clyde Pangborn was commissioned as a lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve (Special Service). He held this commission until his death.

Clyde Pangborne married the French actress, Mlle. Jisele A. Duval (also known by her stage name, Swana Beaucaire) at Southampton, England, February 1938. They had met two years earlier when he pulled her out of a snow bank in Switzerland. They were divorced at Reno, Nevada, 3 April 1944.

During the early years of World War II, Pangborn worked for the Clayton Knight Committee, recruiting unemployed American pilots for the the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. He then joined the R.A.F. Transport Command as a civilian pilot. Captain Pangborne ferried aircraft and equipment across the Atlantic from Canada to the United Kingdom. He made approximately 175 Transatlantic flights.

In August 1942, Pangborn flew an Avro Lancaster Mk.I, R5727, across the North Atlantic to be used as a pattern aircraft for Canadian Lancaster production. Though the Lancaster was considered to be a very long-range bomber, a fuel stop was required at Gander. Pangborn flew the Lancaster around Canada and the United States, allowing aeronautical engineers and military personnel to examine the four-engine British bomber.

Avro Lancaster Mk.I R5727 over Montreal, 1942. (Royal Air Force)

Following World War II, Pangborn was awarded the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom by His Majesty, George VI.

Clyde Edward Pangborn died 29 March 1958, at Manhattan, New York City, at the age of 63 years. He was buried with military honors at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Hugh Herndon Jr., was born at Titusville, Pennsylvania, 3 October 1899. He was the son of Hugh Herndon, Sr., an attorney, and Alice Carter Herndon.

Herndon married Miss Mary Ellen Farley at New York, 14 June 1931. He famously “rescued her from possible death in the tentacles of a large octopus,” at Sandy Key Island in the Bahamas, 15 January 1932. They divorced in 1948. Herndon then married Ruth D. Claiborne, 22 November 1948.

Herndon was an operations manager for Trans World Airlines, based in Cairo, Egypt. He died at his residence at Zamelek, at 10:00 p.m., 4 April 1952. He was cremated and his remains turned over to Mrs. Herndon.

¹ Some sources describe NR796W as a “CH-300 J.” It was registered by the Aeronautics Branch, United States Department of Commerce, as a “CH400 Skyrocket.”

² The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. In military service, it was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.

³ Washington State Department of Health Birth Index.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 July 1897–

Amelia Mary Earhart, 1926 (Associated Press)

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.

Red Cross Nurse’s Aide Amelia Mary Earhart, circa 1917–1918. (Amelia Earhart Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)

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’s first pilot’s license. (National Portrait Gallery)

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.)

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship at Southampton. (Historic Wings)

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.

Amelia Earhart models a women’s flying suit of her own design. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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.

Amelia Earhart photographed for Vogue Magazine by Edward Steichen, November 1931.

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.”

Amelia Earhart with her red and gold Lockheed Vega 5B, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland, after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

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 with her Lockheed Vega 5C, NR965Y, at Wheeler Field, 11 January 1935.(Getty Images/Underwood Archives)

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.

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra Model 10E Special, NR16020.

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)

George Palmer Putnam leaves the Los Angeles Superior Court after missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart was declared dead in absentia, 5 January 1939. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library.)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14993

² FAI Record File Number 14956

³ FAI Record File Number 12326

⁴ FAI Record File Number 12342

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11–12 January 1935

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5C, NR965Y, at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Hawaii, 11 January 1935. (Getty Images/Underwood Archives)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5C, NR965Y, at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, 11 January 1935. On the left is 2nd Lieutenant Curtiss LeMay, U.S. Army Air Corps. 16 years later, LeMay would be promoted to the rank of general. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force 1961–1965. (Hawaii Aviation)

11 January 1935: At 4:40 p.m., local time, Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for Oakland Municipal Airport at Oakland, California, in her Lockheed Vega 5C Special, NR965Y. She arrived 18 hours, 15 minutes later. Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the Mainland.

(This Vega was not the same aircraft which she used to fly the Atlantic, Vega 5B NR7952, and which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.)

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of spiral strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and held together with glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars or other astronomical objects.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5c, NR965Y, being run up at Wheeler Field, 11 January 1935. Amelia is sitting on the running board of the Standard Oil truck parked in front of the hangar. (Hawaii Aviation)

Lockheed Model 5C Vega serial number 171 was completed in March 1931, painted red with silver trim, and registered NX965Y. The airplane had been ordered by John Henry Mears. Mears did not take delivery of the new airplane and it was then sold to Elinor Smith. It was resold twice before being purchased by Amelia Earhart in December 1934.

The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Earhart’s Vega 5C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 2849, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

“Before parting with her ‘little red bus’ (as she affectionately called it), Amelia removed the upgraded Wasp engine and substituted an obsolete model; she wanted her well-tried engine for the new airplane, also a Lockheed Vega. It was a later model, in which Elinor Smith had been preparing to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, a plan abandoned after Amelia successfully took that record. It was originally built to exacting specifications for Henry Mears of New York, who had a round-the-world flight in mind. Called the Vega, Hi-speed Special, it carried the registration 965Y and was equipped with special fuel tanks, radio, and streamlined landing gear and cowling. These latter appointments, together with a Hamilton Standard Controllable-Pitch Propeller, gave the plane a speed of 200 mph and Amelia had her eye on further records as well as her constant journeys across the continent.”

The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 17 at Page 206.

Crowds of spectators greet Amelia Earhart on her arrival at Oakland from Hawaii, 12 January 1935. (Associated Press)
Crowds of spectators greet Amelia Earhart on her arrival at Oakland, California, from Hawaii, 12 January 1935. (Associated Press)

“. . . At Oakland Airport a good ten thousand had been waiting for several hours, yet when she came in she surprised them. They had been craning their necks looking for a lone aircraft flying high and obviously seeking a place to land. But Amelia did not even circle the field; she brought the Vega in straight as an arrow at a scant two hundred feet, landing at 1:31 p.m. Pacific time. The crowd set up a roar, broke through the police lines, and could be halted only when dangerously near the still-whirling propeller. From the road circling the airport, a chorus of automobile horns honked happily.”

Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, Brassey’s, Washington and London, 1997, Chapter 13 at Page 132.

Amelia Earhart stands in the cockpit of her Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR965Y, on arrival at Oakland Municipal Airport, 12 January 1935. (National Geographic/Corbis)

Amelia Earhart sold the Vega in 1936. It appeared in “Border Flight,” (Paramount Pictures, 1936) which starred Frances Farmer, John Howard and Robert Cummings. It changed hands twice more before being destroyed in a hangar fire 26 August 1943.

Lockheed Model 5C Vega NR965Y, on the set of a motion picture production, “Wings in the Dark,” (Paramount Pictures, 1935) or “Border Flight,” (Paramount, 1936). The woman to left of center may be Frances Farmer. Roscoe Karns, who performed in both movies, is at center. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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