A Look Back to a Voyager of Yesteryear
Letter to the Editor
By: Jo Lees Cooper
With the Voyager's non-refuleing trip around the globe establishing a new world's record, I wonder if someone won't look back on it in 50 or
55 years as antiquated and almost humorous as I now look back on the last non-refueling record?
Walter Lees and Fred Brossy flew a specially designed Packard Bellanca monoplane in May, 1931, for 84 hours 32 minutes to establish the world's record for duration without refueling, a record that stood until 1986. (Voyager broke that record during one of its longer test runs and then established the modern record with last month's globe-circling flight of 216 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds--just over nine days.)
Lees and Brossy flew in circles about an observation post at the beach at Jacksonville, Fla. According to Lees' journal, one day they painted, "Throw Lees out. He's only excess weight" on one side of the observation plane. Lees was known by pioneer aviators as an avid practical joker, so he loved this. Their small plane weighed a total of 6,750 pounds and the fuel was carried in two large wing tanks plus a cabin filled with five-gallon cans. As each small can was emptied they would tie a messge to it for the ground crew and drop it out.
They didn't rip off a wing tip when taking off as Voyager did, but they did have one in the air accident. One empty fuel can that they dropped overboard lodged under the stabilizer, ripping a hole in the fuselage.
Lees recalled, "I pulled myself backwards on the bottom of the fuselage with only fabric and a few cross wires between me and the ocean 3,000 feet below. With my head toward the tail and my feet toward the engine I could stretch and just get hold of the can. It was so narrow where I was I couldn't move. Thank goodness in spite of my grade school teachers tying my hand behind my back, I was still lett-handed, and with the curved needle I'd brought, I could sew up the hole after dislodging the can." About 10:30 p.m. the third night, Lees had crawled into the hammock for a little snooze. A few minutes later Fred Brossy poked him and pointed down below, "Something s wrong with the crowd down there, Look, the cars are running around in circles and they've started a big bonfire." The ground crew was just letting them know that they had beaten the previous French 75 hour record.
At first Lees and Brossy thought fried chicken would be the best food to take, but after two unsuccessful attempts, they learned to pare their food supply down to 18 sandwiches. They had a chamber pot and home-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches versus the technology and concentrated foods available today.
"Strange as it may seem to those who have not made long flights," Lees said, "one has an empty feeling but does not become hungry, or at least does no feel like eating. Nearly everything we ate had to be forced down, as we realized food was necessary to keep up our strength."
Although Lees learned to fly in 1912, soloed Billy Mitchell, and trained World War I pilots, he was most proud of his endurance record.
Congratulations Jeane Yeager and Dick Rutan for your round-the-world non-refueling record, but watch out. In another 50 years, you'll be considered pioneer aviators too. Records are really only made to be broken by the most high adventurers.
Cooper is secretary of the Early Birds of Aviation, Inc.