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.


Pandabonium said…
There is a beautiful flyable replica of the plane "Miss Vidol" at the Misawa Aviation & Science Museum in Aomori Prefecture, near to the beach from where they took off. Misawa is now a sister city to Wenatchee, WA.

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