Saturday, January 05, 2019

One Chance for Glory

1931: The first pilot to fly across the Pacific was Clyde Pangborn, and here is a great documentary on Youtube (only about 500 views, how about it).

Great film clips from back in the early 1930s.

He is remembered in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, and in Washington State, U.S.

For their accomplishment, Pangborn and Herndon 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 Harmony Trophy.

And here is a novel that tells the story.

One Chance for Glory by Edward (Ted) Heikell and Robert (Bob) Heikel, both from Washington State, U.S.


Pangborn flew 4500 miles over water in a Single Engine Land airplane, jettisoned his landing gear into the ocean to save drag, climbed outside at 17,000 feet in the frigid air at night to make repairs, put the airplane into a terrifying dive to 1400 feet to restart the engine, diverted the flight path to avoid collision with Mt Rainier and finally belly-landed (crash landed) on a dirt strip cut out of the sage-brush land above Wenatchee, Washington, to complete his trip over the Pacific Ocean in 1931. Charles Lindbergh became a household name four years earlier by flying the 3600 miles solo over the Atlantic.

His co-pilot was Hugh Herndon, Jr. who had marginal flying experience. He was taught to fly in a private school in France and had very little practical knowledge about aviation or navigational skills. What he did have that Clyde needed was the financial backing of his mother. If Hugh could be trained to be a worthy co-pilot, Clyde would have all of the ingredients he would need to continue his career as an aviator.

The custom airplane that they bought was a modified version of the Bellanca Sky Rocket. It was not a fast airplane, but was known to be very reliable, had long-range capability and a strong engine and big wing to get heavy fuel loads out of short unimproved fields. While its specified limits were well established, using it to cross the Pacific Ocean was not part of the design criteria. Whenever the specifications were violated, they would have to rely on Clyde Pangborn’s knowledge, which was referred to as the “Pangborn Factors”.

Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon took off from Sabishiro Beach, Misawa, Aomori, in Japan on October 4, 1931. From the moment they took off the flight was plagued by problems, but they managed to land safely at Fancher Field in Wenatchee, Washington, forty one hours and fifteen minutes after they took off.

Be that as it may, but why has the name of Pangborn been so well kept off the history books?

Edward T. Heikell and Robert L. Heikell mix history with some fiction to create a well-rounded view of lesser known pilot Clyde Pangborn in “One Chance for Glory: First nonstop flight across the Pacific” (ISBN 1468006088). 
Pangborn was the first pilot to successfully cross the Pacific Ocean nonstop, but his accomplishment was lost in the shuttle of other pilots who accomplished great things and became household names. The Heikell brothers contacted sources who were associated with Pangborn during the time of his flight, and all questioned why Pangborn’s incredible feat was never advertised in history books. 

During the era of pilots like Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and Jimmy Doolittle, Pangborn was overlooked; however, some suspect it was a result of a gag order placed on him by the sponsors of his trip. The Heikells use emotions and fictitious conversations to piece together what sketchy historical information existed about the flight and link the emotional stresses that must have existed between Pangborn and his loved ones. 

“The book is based on history, but some of it had to be fiction,” Edward Heikell says. “Actual pictures of the event have been included, but all of the conversations, emotions, some people and sub stories were made up to make a complete story out of the fragmented history trail.” 

Pangborn and his co-pilot Hugh Herndon Jr. ventured on their trip to save the barnstorming business and make a name for themselves. A dangerous journey within itself, Pangborn was shocked when he discovered Herndon was not the flyer he appeared to be, thus nearly killing them on numerous occasions. The discovery of situations like this prompted the Heikells to add in made-up emotions that would present a complete story of Pangborn.

So, Who Was The First To Fly Across The Pacific Ocean?

Quiz time - we all know the name of Charles Lindbergh flying from the US to Europe in 1927. Many other flight records were as important, but who did the first flight across the Pacific Ocean?

What sets Lindbergh's record apart is that it was a solo flight. Not particularly useful, but in that day an age, it caught the attention of the general public and the media. More realistically, a pilot needed a navigator, as in my novel, Kamikaze to Croydon. Breaking the record and flying from Japan to Europe in just four days in 1937 could not be done solo.

American Wiley Post and Harold Gatty did the first round-the-world flight in 1930, after the German Graf Zeppelin, piloted by Hugo Eckener had pioneered that particular feat (including a landing in Japan).

Canadian pilot Harald Bromly was the first to make a serious attempt at the Pacific, but failed when starting from Tacoma, Washington State, U.S.

''I find it difficult to convince many persons that this proposed flight is not sheer suicide,'' Mr. Bromley said in July 1929 as he prepared to fly alone to Tokyo in a Lockheed Vega low-wing monoplane. 

Source: The New York Times 1998 obituary

He failed again when trying to fly from Japan and eastwards, as his plane was too heavy. He had to dump fuel and then return. On September 15, 1930 Bromley again tried to make a trans-Pacific flight, this time in an Emsco monoplane, dubbed 'City of Tacoma', with Harold Gatty as his navigator. This time the flight was from Tokyo to Tacoma.

Engine trouble after about 1,250 miles forced them back to Japan, where they landed on a beach.

Harold Bromley became a test pilot for Lockheed and later opened a flying school in Tacoma. He died in 1999 at the age of 99 years.

With him was a fascinating character, his navigator Harold Gatty. Born in Australia, he had shown an interest in navigation that was to serve many other pioneering pilots of that era.

One of the first professional air navigators, Harold Gatty instructed such aeronautical elites as Anne Morrow Lindbergh in air navigation and invented new equipment. He developed the Gatty drift indicator for use in aircraft. Gatty served as Wiley Post's navigator on his record breaking around the world flight. He had been trained in air navigation by P. V. H. Weems and managed the Weems System of Navigation while Weems was on sea duty during the Depression. Gatty and Lindbergh convinced Pan American Airways to adopt the Weems System. Gatty became the Army Air Corps' chief navigation engineer—a remarkable position for a foreign (Tasmanian) national. There he tutored the cadre of officers who would be decisive in implementing the strategic bombing campaign during World War II, including Curtis LeMay.

Source: The Smithsonian

Oh, the irony. Anyway, we can safely say that the early pilots and daredevils quickly learnt that there had to be a science to the art of flying.

So, who was the first to fly across the Pacific?

After other aviators also failed to cross the Pacific, the feat was accomplished in October 1931 by Clyde Pangborn, a veteran barnstormer, and Hugh Herndon, a wealthy New Yorker who financed the flight, flying a Bellanca. Their flight, beginning at Sabishiro Beach and ending in Wenatchee, Wash., was part of their round-the-world trip in an unsuccessful effort to break the record time set in June 1931 by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty. Mr. Pangborn and Mr. Herndon received a $25,000 prize from the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

Source: The New York Times

This is a fantastic trip back in time, a compilation of news reels with sound and interviews from 1931:

Sabishiro is in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, and their plane was the Miss Veedol, a Bellanca (a US company founded by the Italian Giuseppe Mario Bellanca, who first cam to the US in 1911).

Clyde Pangborn was born in Washington State and ought to be as well known as the rest of them aviation pioneers.