• U.S.

Aeronautics: Unwieldly Suckling

2 minute read

Unwieldy Suckling

Fourteen times has the North Atlantic been spanned nonstop by airplanes; the Pacific not once. Several flyers have reached Hawaii from the U. S.; Kingsford-Smith flew on from Hawaii to Suva and Australia. U. S. Army and Soviet flyers crossed Bering Sea, as did Post & Gatty a few weeks ago. But big money prizes offered for the first nonstop flight between U. S. and Japan have stayed uncollected after four tries in two years, chiefly because of the staggering fuel load needed for the 5,000-mi. route. Last week the fifth serious Tokyo trial got away from Seattle to a fair start, floundered near the halfway mark, ended at Nome.

The starter was the Lockheed monoplane Fort Worth, a white ship like the world-circling Winnie Mae but with a Wright motor of only 220 h. p. The pilots: Reginald L. Robbins, a Texas farmboy who taught himself to fly several years ago and in 1929 took the endurance record away from the Army’s Question Mark (TIME, June 3, 1929); and Harry S. Jones, bachelor sportsman and promoter who had handled the refuelling plane for that endurance flight. Practiced in the tricks of refuelling in midair, Robbins & Jones decided not to try to force an overloaded plane into the air for a straight dash across the ocean. Instead they would take off light, fly inland to Alaska, take fuel over Fairbanks from a nurse ship, let the nurse fly with them across Bering Strait and suckle them once more. Then the refuel plane would turn back and the full-bellied Fort Worth would fly down the Siberian coast to Japan to claim the $25,000 purse offered by the Tokyo Asahi.

There was beautiful precision to the first stage of the flight. The Fort Worth climbed out of Seattle’s Boeing Field before dawn, kept rendezvous with her trimotored Ford refuel plane over Fairbanks that evening only 30 min. behind time. Throttled down to comparatively slow speeds the planes flew together while the Fort Worth drained 200 gal. from her nurse above. Then both flew on to Nome, made contact again in a brisk wind. A load of 435 gal. was needed to complete the flight. After taking 300 gal. the Fort Worth became unmanageable in the wind. Robbins & Jones could not hold her steady enough to complete the transfer. Finally they gave up, landed at Nome, announced they would try again with a more powerful motor.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com