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Howard Hughes with four companions flew nearly fifteen thousand miles in less than four days


HOWARD HUGHES FLYING ABOVE NEW YORK at the beginning of his great flight

HOWARD HUGHES FLYING ABOVE NEW YORK at the beginning of his great flight. The aircraft he used was a Lockheed 14 air liner. Except that it had large petrol tanks, extra navigational equipment and that some of the cabin windows were omitted, the aeroplane was a standard model. The normal maximum speed of the Lockheed 14 is 265 miles an hour at 8,700 feet, and the service ceiling is 26,300 feet.

WHETHER the long-distance flight made by Howard Hughes in 1938 is considered as a flight round the world, or merely as a large circuit round the North Pole, it remains a remarkable demonstration of the reliability of modern aircraft. It also illustrates the advanced stage of development attained by aviation. The distance round the world at the Equator is 24,900 miles, whereas the distance flown by Hughes was 14,874 miles. However, by beginning and ending his flight at the same place he did cross every meridian of longitude.

Hughes, a rich American, and often remembered for a flying film which he made, used a specially prepared Lockheed 14 air liner for his flight. He is an amateur flier, and was accompanied on his flight by four companions. Hughes more than halved the time taken by Wiley Post for a flight over a closely similar route in 1933 (see the chapter “Round the World in Eight Days”).

The first world flight was made in 1924, when two American Army aeroplanes flew 27,500 miles via the Aleutian Islands, Japan and India in five months twenty-two days. In 1929 Charles Kingsford-Smith made a world flight in easy stages, and in the same year the Graf Zeppelin made a round trip of 21,300 miles in a few hours over twenty days. In 1937 Miss Amelia Earhart lost her life in attempting to fly round the Equator. The time taken by Hughes was three days nineteen hours seventeen minutes.

Hughes spent many months preparing for his flight, and the Lockheed 14 was his third choice of aeroplanes. The first was a Douglas DC-1, with special tanks, and the second a Sikorsky S-43 twin-engined amphibian. The Lockheed was almost a standard aircraft except for the large petrol tanks, the extra navigational equipment and the deletion of some of the cabin windows. The aeroplane was named World’s Fair 1939, because the object of the flight was partly to advertise the World’s Fair to be held at Long Island, New York, in 1939.

The four companions who accompanied Hughes were Lieutenants Harry Connor and Hiram Thurlow as navigators, Richard Stoddart as radio operator, and Edward Lund as engineer. After a small fault in an oil pump had been rectified, the aeroplane was ready to leave the Floyd Bennett Aerodrome, New York, on the evening of July 10, 1938. At 11.20 p.m. G.M.T. Hughes took off and headed his aircraft eastwards for Paris.

The first eight hours of the flight were made in darkness, but the coming of daylight brought little relief from instrument flying, for visibility was bad. Land was sighted twice only during the 3,641 miles’ flight to Paris, once when the fliers were near Ireland and once when they crossed the French coast at Cherbourg. The flight over France to Le Bourget Airport, Paris, was made in clouds.

At 6.30 a.m., by which time the aeroplane had covered 1,260 miles and was about 400 miles from Newfoundland, a radio message indicated that the fliers had doubts about the sufficiency of their petrol to enable them to reach land. But off the coast of Ireland they picked up a following wind of sixty miles an hour and had 300 gallons of petrol to spare when they arrived at Paris.

This favourable wind also enabled them to make better time to Paris than they had anticipated. Hughes had reckoned to take twenty-two hours over the stage to Paris. It was completed in a minute over sixteen and a half hours, and the fliers landed at Le Bourget at 3.51 p.m. G.M.T. They thus made a new record for the transatlantic crossing from New York to Paris, the previous record having been made by Charles Lindbergh.

At Paris it was discovered that the heavy load of petrol at the take-off from New York had caused the tail-wheel frame to be displaced. Repairs to this caused a certain delay to the beginning of the second stage of the flight to Moscow.

SIX STOPS WERE MADE during the flight round the northern part of the globe

SIX STOPS WERE MADE during the flight round the northern part of the globe; two were in Europe, two in Asia and two in North America. A record was made on the first leg of the flight from New York to Paris. The time of thirty-three and a halt hours taken for this flight by Lindbergh was halved.

During the second day stops were made at Moscow and at Omsk (Siberia). It had originally been intended to stop at Berlin on the way to Moscow but, because of the delay caused by repairs and because Hughes hoped to take advantage of favourable conditions over Russia, it was decided to omit the stop at Berlin. At 12.24 G.M.T., less than nine hours after they had arrived at Paris, the fliers left for Moscow.

As anticipated,the 1,600-miles’ stretch from Paris to Moscow was made comparatively easy by the good weather conditions. Progress was so good that Hughes considered not stopping at Moscow, but continuing on to Novo Sibirsk, in western Siberia. But a message informed him that the aerodrome at Novo Sibirsk was temporarily water-logged. A landing there was thus out of the

question. Moscow was reached at 8.16 a.m. G.M.T., the flight having taken eight minutes under eight hours. Hughes was feeling tired when he arrived at Moscow, having had only ninety minutes’ sleep since he had left New York. He therefore circled the aerodrome for several minutes while he carefully studied the landing area to ensure a safe landing.

The fliers had a meal at Moscow, but stayed only about two and a quarter hours before setting out for Omsk, 1,500 miles away. Unfortunately the grade of oil required by the Lockheed aircraft was not obtainable in Siberia, and so the aeroplane was loaded with a quarter of a ton of the correct oil before the start from Moscow was made. Hughes was none too happy about the surface of the aerodrome at Moscow for his heavily loaded aircraft. There was a concrete runway, but it was rather short, and the surface of the remainder of the aerodrome was not good. He taxied round for ten minutes before deciding to use the runway. A good take-off, however, was made at 10.33 a.m. G.M.T.

The flight from Moscow to Omsk was without incident, and the Siberian aerodrome was reached at 6 p.m. on the second day, the flight from Moscow having been completed in seven hours twenty-seven minutes. The average for the flight up to the arrival at Omsk was well over two hundred miles an hour. A stay of just over four and a half hours was made at Omsk, and the fliers left again at 10.37 p.m. G.M.T.

Although Hughes was now nearly twenty hours ahead of the time taken by Wiley Post up to this stage, he announced before leaving Omsk that he might attempt to fly direct to Fairbanks in Alaska. The direct route between these two places is about 4,000 miles. While this was well within the range of the Lockheed aircraft, the flight would have been over dense forests, large tracks of uninhabited scrub and miles of swampland. On the other hand, to have flown non-stop via Irkutsk or Yakutsk would have run the margin of fuel extremely close.

BEFORE Howard Hughes flight

BEFORE THE FLIGHT. Standing, from left to right, are Edward Lund, engineer; Howard Hughes; Grover Whalen, President of the World’s Fair which the flight was planned to advertise; Harry Connor, Navigator; Richard Stoddart, radio operator; Hiram Thurlow, navigator and second pilot. Howard Hughes piloted the aircraft during the greater part of the flight.

After having taken off from Omsk, Hughes received weather reports telling of unfavourable weather over eastern Siberia. It also had been reported that the aerodrome at Yakutsk was dry enough to afford a safe landing for his aeroplane. Therefore, with characteristic caution, Hughes decided to land at Yakutsk, 2,177 miles from Omsk. Yakutsk was reached at 9.8 a.m. G.M.T. on the third day of the flight. A minute after midday, having remained less than three hours, the fliers were off again for Fairbanks. Their stay would probably have been shorter had power-driven refuelling apparatus been available.

The flight from Yakutsk to Fairbanks was one of 2,456 miles and included a crossing of the Bering Sea. Cloudy weather, with the possibility of ice formation, was reported from the neighbourhood of the Bering Sea. As no radio messages were received in Siberia after Hughes had left Yakutsk, some anxiety was felt for the fliers in spite of the knowledge of his de-icing apparatus, and of the fact that oxygen apparatus enabled him to fly high enough to pass above almost any cloud formation. Alaska, however, was safely reached.

Average 163 Miles an Hour

The fliers passed near Point Barrow, where Wiley Post was killed with Will Rogers in 1935 when attempting to fly from California to Moscow via the North Pole. Fairbanks was reached at 12.20 a.m. G.M.T. on the fourth day of the flight. Among those waiting to welcome Hughes and his companions was Mrs. Wiley Post, who had gone there to unveil a memorial to her husband and to Will Rogers.

Hughes was anxious to leave Fairbanks for New York to keep to his scheduled time of four days for the round flight. So in the unbroken daylight of the Arctic the runway was cleared and the aeroplane was refuelled with sufficient rapidity for the fliers to leave an hour and eighteen minutes later. Once again the aircraft had to be refuelled with the aid of hand pumps, and to conserve the charge in the batteries the engines were started by swinging the propellers by hand. All surplus weight, including personal belongings of the fliers, was discarded; 2,000 gallons of petrol and 200 gallons of oil were taken on board. The aeroplane used the whole length of the 3,000-feet runway for the take-off. At the last moment it was decided to fly to New York via Minneapolis (Minnesota). Thus began the last 3,500 miles of the flight.

The stretch from Fairbanks to Minneapolis, where the only stop between Fairbanks and New York was made, was the worst of the whole journey. Much of it was flown in darkness and at such a height that oxygen apparatus had to be used. The shortest stop of all six made during the flight was at Minneapolis. The fliers reached that city at 1.38 p.m. G.M.T. and stayed thirty-five minutes. They left at 2.13 p.m. G.M.T. for New York.

New York was reached at 6.37 p.m. G.M.T., the last 1,000 miles from Minneapolis having taken three hours twenty-four minutes.

Hughes was at the controls throughout almost the whole flight and did most of the flying himself. Tired out, the fliers received a great welcome from a crowd which 1,000 policemen and troops had difficulty in controlling.

The final landing was made at the aerodrome and at almost the exact spot from which the flight had begun. Including over twenty hours for stops, the average speed for the whole flight was 163 miles an hour. The flying time was seventy-one hours four minutes.

THE COMPLETION OF Howard Hughes flight at New York

THE COMPLETION OF THE FLIGHT at New York, where a large crowd welcomed the fliers. A thousand police and troops had difficulty in curbing the forceful enthusiasm of the people Hughes and his companions had little sleep during the flight and on several occasions were forced to use oxygen because of the great height at which they flew.

You can read more on “Charles Augustus Lindbergh”, “Famous German Airship Flights” and “Round the World in Eight Days” on this website.

Circling the Globe