Tag Archives: Vincent Bendix

4 September 1936

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-SI-83-2088)

4 September 1936: Louise Thaden was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, in 14 hours, 55 minutes, 1.0 seconds. With one fuel stop at Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour).

In addition to the trophy, Mrs. Thaden won a prize of $2,500.

Louise Thaden with the Bendix Trophy. (Tom Sande, AP)
Louise McPhetridge, 1926. (The Razorback)

Iris Louise McPhetridge was born 12 November 1905 at Bentonville, Arkansas. She was the first of three daughters of Roy Fry McPhetridge, owner of a foundry, and Edna Hobbs McPhetridge. She was educated at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a member of the Class of 1927. She was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, head sports for basketball and president of The Panhellenic.

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Mrs Thaden set an FAI World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet) over Oakland, California, 7 December 1928.¹  On 17 March 1929, she set an FAI record for duration of 22 hours, 3 minutes.²

In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. Mrs. Thaden was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

Louise Thaden’s original pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Miss McPhetridge married Mr. Herbert von Thaden at San Francisco, California, 21 July 1928. Thaden was a former military pilot and an engineer. They would have two children, William and Patricia.

Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden with her husband, Herbert von Thaden, in front of the Beech C17R Staggerwing, NR15385. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Louise Thaden served as secretary of the National Aeronautic Association, and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines. She served as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936.

Louise Thaden stopped flying in 1938. She died at High Point, North Carolina, 9 November 1979.

Louise Thaden with her 1936 Vincent Bendix Trophy, circa 1975. (NASM)

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records.

Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C-17R NR15385 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C17R NR15835 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Beechcraft C17R was single-engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers in its enclosed cabin. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with retractable landing gear.

The Beech 17 was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

This photograph of Beechcraft Model 17s under construction at Wichita, Kansas, reveals the structure of the airplane. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The leading edge of the Model 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.

The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Whirlwind 440 (R-975E3) 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. The R-975E3 was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 92-octane gasoline. The engine was 43.00 inches (1.092 meters) long and 45.25 inches (1.149 meters) in diameter. It weighed 700 pounds (318 kilograms).

This engine gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and its range was 800 miles (1,287.5 kilometers).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 at the finish of the Bendix Trophy Race, Mines Field, Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

The Beechcraft C17R flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy, serial number 77, had already been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it for the race before delivering to the owner. It was painted in Sherwin Williams blue with white stripes. The rear passenger seats were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place.

After the race, the owner took his airplane to South America. Several Staggerwings have been registered as N15835, including s/n 74 and s/n 81. The status of the actual Bendix winner is unknown.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12223

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 September 1938

Seversky AP-7 NX1384, seen from below. In this configuration, the landing gear folds rearward. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

1 September 1938: Jackie Cochran departed the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:00 a.m., flying her Seversky AP-7, NX1384, c/n 145. Her destination was Cleveland, Ohio, the finish line for the Bendix Trophy Race, 2,042 miles (3,286 kilometers) away.

“Major Alexander de Seversky poses with Jacqueline Cochran beside the Seversky in which she flew from Burbank, Cal., to Cleveland in 8 hrs. and 10 min. to win the Bendix Trophy.” (Contemporary newspaper photograph)

NX1384 was built by the Seversky Aircraft Corporation of Farmingdale, Long Island, New York, especially for Jackie Cochran. It had been flown from the factory to Burbank by Major de Seversky just two days earlier. His flight set an East-to-West Transcontinental Speed Record of 10 hours, 2 minutes, 55.7 seconds.

Seversky AP-7 NX1384 (c/n 145). (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The AP-7 racer was an improved version of Major Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky’s P-35A fighter, which was the U.S. Army Air Corps’ first all-metal single-engine airplane with an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear.

Seversky AP-7 NX1384 (c/n 145). (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Cochran’s AP-7 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1B3-G (R-1830-11) two-row 14-cylinder radial engine rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton-Standard controllable-pitch propeller through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Seversky AP-7 NX1384, c/n 145. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

“Finally the P-35 arrived. I decided that I didn’t want to take it into the air for a test even if I could. The racing officials impounded it because it was a prototype and there was some kind of rule about untested planes. I would test it en route. . . Finally, I got to sit in the cockpit. I began to study all the instruments by the hour. I can almost see them still. 

Jackie Cochran paints her race number, 13, of the fuselage of her Seversky AP-7. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran paints her race number, 13, of the fuselage of her Seversky AP-7 at the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. The airplane’s passenger compartment hatch and window is behind Ms. Cochran. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

“There are about a hundred or more buttons, levers, and other gadgets to push, pull or twirl. . .  I close my eyes and reach for everything in the dark. And I keep at this until I can get to them blindfolded and with no false moves. . . 

“I finally see Cleveland. . . (a)nd am going so fast that I pass the airport and come in from the wrong side. . . Have I won? The crowds are cheering. It’s a standing ovation. . . I have won the Bendix.”

— Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Pages 160–165.

Seversky AP-7 NX1384, c/n 145. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

“I often wonder what is meant exactly by a considered risk. . . In my case I never could ponder over the risks too much because I had to take a fast plane whenever it became available to me and make the best of it. I won the 1938 Bendix Race in a Seversky pursuit plane which I had never flown until that night, when, with a heavy overload of gas, I took off in the race. The plane was delivered from the factory to me just two days before the race and under the rules it had to be immediately impounded. It was a prototype that had not yest been tested. I tested it en route during the race. Its feature was that it had wings that were in effect integrated tanks so that most of the wings could be filled with fuel, thus adding range. It developed in flight that the fuel from the right wing would not properly feed the engine. By force on the stick I had to hold that wing much higher than the other from time to time in order to drain the fuel from that right wing into the left wing and from the left wing into the engine. When I got the plane back to the factory after the race a large wad of wrapping paper was discovered near the outlet of the right-wing tank. No wonder the drainage had been bad. How, for example, could that risk be properly considered i advance? The paper in the tank could have been sabotage. Some thought so at the time. More likely it was paper pasted on the inside of the wing during manufacture which had not been removed and which worked loose from the action of the gasoline and the vibration of the plane.”

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, at Pages 65–66

Jackie Cochran was the third pilot to leave Burbank, but the first to arrive at Cleveland. Her elapsed time for the flight from California to Ohio was 8 hours, 10 minutes, 31.4 seconds, for an average speed of 249.774 miles per hour (401.895 kilometers per hour). For her first place finish, Ms. Cochran won a prize of $12,500.

Vincent Bendix congratulates Jackie Cochran on her winning of the Bendix Trophy Race, 1 September 1938. (NASM)

After being congratulated on her win by Vincent Bendix and other race officials, Cochran had her Seversky monoplane refueled. She then got back in to its cockpit and took off for Floyd Bennett Field, new York. She landed there 10 hours, 12 minutes, 55 seconds after leaving Burbank. This was a new West-to East Transcontinental Speed Record.

Jackie Cochran’s Vincent Bendix Trophy in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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