Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper offered $25,000 for the first nonstop transpacific flight; Clyde Edward Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, Jr accepted the challenge.
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.
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, their plane would be impounded. (Arlington)
A few days before take off, Clyde, who had grown concerned about the planeʼs limited fuel supply, developed a plan to reduce the aircraftʼs weight and thereby increase its range. (Roberts)
Pangborn was not only an ace pilot, but an ace mechanic, as well. He hand-fashioned another fuel tank that held an additional 50-gallons to the forward belly of the plane.
The plane then held 915 gallons of fuel in seven tanks and 45 gallons of oil for a gross weight of about 9,000 lbs. This was three times the plane’s empty weight. He also modified the landing gear with pins that could be removed in flight to reduce drag. (Minnesota DOT)
The also removed the doors; the pilots climbed in through windows into a cramped cockpit. They carried no parachutes and no life raft – too much weight. For the same reason, they wore no boots, just heavy wool socks and “Japanese style coveralls.” They had no radio or electronic navigational aids, only a compass, and, at night, the North Star.
The flight was sponsored by Herndon and his mother, heiress to the Tide Water Oil Company. Tide Water was the producer of the Veedol line of motor oils and lubricants, so the airplane was named Miss Veedol. (This Day in Aviation)
On October 4, 1931, Clyde Edward Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, Jr., flying their Bellanca Skyrocket, Miss Veedol, took off from Sabashiro Beach, on the northern coast of the island of Honshu, Japan.
Miss Veedol had also been modified by Pangborn so that its landing gear could be dropped, reducing weight by approximately 300 pounds.
The decreased aerodynamic drag resulted in an increase in the airplane’s speed of approximately 15 miles per hour. Dropping the landing gear would require a belly landing at the destination, however.
When it was time to jettison the landing gear, the mechanism failed, leaving two struts still attached to the airplane. Pangborn remedied this situation about halfway through the flight when he turned the controls over to Herndon and at 14,000 feet he crawled out onto the wing supports and freed the two landing gear struts. (Arlington)
Their destination was Seattle, Washington. They flew a Great Circle Course, and the first land that they encountered was Dutch Harbor, at the outer tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
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 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 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 Pangborn 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.
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.
After landing in East Wenatchee, the Miss Veedol was trucked to Seattle where the landing gear was rebuilt and refitted. (Arlington)