Why is there a red plane on the City's logo?
In 1931, Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon teamed up to attempt to break the around-the-world flight record of 20 days 4 hours set by the German Graf Zeppelin in 1929. Herndon's family supplied the money and Pangborn provided the expertise and flying skill necessary for such an undertaking.
Pangborn chose a Bellanca "Skyrocket" as the perfect aircraft for its range, lifting abilities, and reliability. On July 28, after many weeks of preparation, the heavily-laden bright red Bellanca lumbered down New York's Roosevelt Field No. 2, lifted off and headed out over the Atlantic on the first leg of the Around the-world flight. After crossing the Atlantic, Pangborn and Herndon landed in Wales. They flew on to London, Berlin, and Moscow. In Siberia, Herndon, at the controls while Pangborn slept, lost his way and they finally landed in a village in Mongolia. Back on course with more hours lost, they flew toward Khabarovsk. They landed in Khabarovsk in a blinding rainstorm; when the Bellanca touched down she settled deep into the mud of the runway. Forced to wait out the storm for a day and over 27 hours behind the world record, the two aviators considered their slower plane and decided to abandon the speed attempt.
With their hopes for an around the world speed record shattered, the duo then decided that they would try for the $25,000 prize offered by a Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, for the first non-stop flight from Japan to the United States. After wiring their New York office to arrange the proper flight clearance and Japanese landing papers, the two took off for Tokyo, assuming that they had the necessary documents to land in Japan.
Their flight from Khabarovsk took them over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. En route Herndon took photographs with both a still and 16mm movie camera. Upon landing in Tokyo, they were arrested for having no papers and for photographing naval installations in northern Japan. After considerable diplomatic wrangling, as well as several long sessions of intensive questioning by the police, Pangborn and Herndon were fined for their transgressions and released. After reluctantly giving the Americans permission to attempt the trans-Pacific flight, the Japanese officials informed Pangborn that only one take-off attempt was to be allowed. If the first try failed, or the flyers were forced to return after takeoff, the Bellanca would be impounded.
Several major obstacles faced the Americans if they were to succeed in completing the first non-stop trans-Pacific flight. First, the Bellanca would be over loaded with fuel; consequently, they needed an extremely long runway from which to take off. They solved this problem by moving the plane approximately two hundred miles north of Tokyo to the 8,000 foot runway at Sabishiro Beach.
Second, even with the extra fuel, Pangborn calculated that they might not have the range to complete the flight if they encountered anything but perfect flying conditions. Therefore, he designed and constructed--without the knowledge of the Japanese--a mechanism which would enable the flyers to drop the Bellanca's landing gear once it was airborne. This would effectively increase the airspeed by fifteen miles per hour or add approximately 600 miles to their range for the expected 40-hour flight. Final preparations for the flight were completed by the first of October. Despite the loss of their maps and charts, reportedly stolen by a radical nationalist society which hoped to sabotage the flight, Pangborn was anxious to leave before the Japanese reconsidered their decision to allow the flight. After waiting several days for the weather to clear, the Americans began their historic flight on the morning of October 4th (Japanese time).
The big Bellanca, burdened with 930 gallons of fuel and weighing in excess of 9,000 pounds, far beyond the manufacturers' recommended or even tested specifications, reluctantly took to the air and headed out over the Pacific. Three hours into the flight, Pangborn dropped the wheels to reduce wind resistance; the wheels fell into the sea off the Japanese coast, but the landing gear struts did not release. Pangborn remedied this situation about halfway through the flight when he turned the controls over to Herndon and at 14,000 feet above the icy waters of the North Pacific, he crawled out onto the wing supports and freed the two landing gear struts. His experience as a wing walker in his early flying days had made the difference between a successful flight and a crash-landing; an attempted belly landing with the landing gear struts in place would have proved fatal.
Fighting the bitter cold in the late autumn skies over the Gulf of Alaska, the two fliers coaxed the "Miss Veedol" toward the U.S. mainland. Earlier there had been several large cash prizes offered for different versions of this record flight, but on nearing the U.S., Pangborn simply wanted to put down at a field where he could repair the landing gear and continue his around-the-world journey. With fog obscuring possible landing sites in Spokane and Pasco, the wings icing up, and fuel running low after about forty hours in the air; Pangborn decided to try for East Wenatchee. He was familiar with the field; he knew that there would not be fog. With his mother and brother waiting on the ground in East Wenatchee, Pangborn was assured of a welcome reception. At a few minutes after seven on the morning of October 5th, 1931, the big red Bellanca flew in low over the hills east of Wenatchee, make a quick pass over the field while "Pang" looked for obstacles, and finally settled down to a nearly perfect belly landing 41 hours and 15 minutes after taking off from Sabishiro Beach, Japan.
Pangborn and Herndon had flown nonstop almost 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Although it was a feat which equaled or exceeded the accomplishment of Charles A. Lindberg in his 1927 Atlantic crossing (a crossing which had been made many times before). The Pacific was not flown non-stop again until after World War II.
For his trans-Pacific flight, Pangborn won the Aviation League's Harmon Trophy symbolizing the greatest achievement in flight in the year 1931.