Clyde Edward Pangborn, son of Max Pangborn and Opal Lamb
Pangborn, was born in Bridgeport, Washington, on October 28,
1896. His parents ranched on the upper Columbia River, but at the
age of two they separated and Clyde remained with his mother. He
grew up in the lumber camps of Idaho and graduated from St.
Maries High School in 1914. He continued his education with
extension courses in civil engineering from the University of Idaho;
this training allowed him to secure a position as assistant to the
Chief Engineer with the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company.
America's entry into the First World War afforded Clyde the
opportunity to fulfill his lifelong desire to learn to fly. He enlisted in
the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and was trained as a pilot.
Rather than being sent overseas after completing his advanced
flight training, Pangborn was assigned to Ellington Field in Houston,
Texas, as an instructor. After his discharge from the Army Air Corps,
he returned to the Pacific Northwest and performed exhibition flying
for Northwest Aircraft Corporation based in Spokane, Washington. It
was during this period that Pangborn made his ill-fated
"automobile-to-airplane" transfer at Coronado Beach, California. His
injuries in falling from the speeding car constituted the only serious
accident in his entire barnstorming career.
In 1921, Pangborn joined Ivan R. Gates as a partner in the
formation of the Gates Flying Circus. For the next nine years,
Pangborn "barnstormed" across the entire United States during
which time he carried approximately 1.5 million passengers without
mishap or injury. Although half owner, Pangborn served as chief
pilot and operating manager. Performing in an air show over
Houston, Texas, in February 1924, Pangborn assisted in the mid-air
rescue of a young stunt woman whose parachute had caught on the
landing gear of Pangborn's plane. This daring rescue, involving four
aviators and two aircraft, as well as the hapless girl, catapulted the
Flying Circus into national prominence. The Circus prospered
during the later 1920s reaching its zenith with eleven planes at New
Jersey's Teterboro Air Show in August 1927.
The heyday of the barnstormers was ending with the 1920s;
mounting federal regulations governing all aspects of flying were
taking their toll. It was increasingly difficult to keep the wooden
World War I vintage aircraft flying by the end of the decade and a
new generation of machines, not as suited to circus performance,
were appearing to challenge the wooden "crates" and their
supremacy over the cities of America. Under this combination of
pressures, the Gates Flying Circus quietly ended in Florida in the
spring of 1929 after a tour of the Southeast.
Pangborn, however, retained his faith in the popularity and
profitability of barnstorming. As chief test pilot for the new Standard
Aircraft Corporation, which he, Gates and Charles H. Day formed in
1929, he had the opportunity to both fly and sell his own company's
product -- barnstorming, in a manner of speaking. The stock market
crash of 1929 wiped out the fledgling company; in its short history, it
had failed to make a profit. Despite the company's failure, Pangborn
continued to believe in the financial feasibility of barnstorming and
One of the pilots on the Western U.S. demonstration tour of the New
Standard D-24 was Hugh Herndon, Jr., scion of a wealthy New York
family. Herndon had purchased a D-24, learned to fly and asked to
be included in the Pangborn tour. After New Standard Aircraft
folded, Pangborn and Herndon, whose mother put up her son's half
of the money, formed "The Flying Fleet" and began to tour the U.S.,
barnstorming and passenger carrying. Increased safety regulations
and competition from the larger, single-wing, closed-cabin aircraft --
"The Flying Fleet" continued to use the open cockpit New Standards
-- spelled the end of the Pangborn-Herndon air show. "The Flying
Fleet" disbanded in February 1931 and the planes were stored in
Palo Alto, California, the last city on the tour. Despite Pangborn's
vow to continue barnstorming when the depression ended, the
Fleet's New Standards were later sold for hanger fees. In the short
thirteen months of its existence, The Flying Fleet had carried
121,000 passengers and booked into nearly 100 cities in 36 states.
With his barnstorming days at an end, Pangborn looked for new
projects. In conjunction with Herndon, he planned to break the
around-the-world flight record of 20 days 4 hours set by the German
Graf Zepplin in 1929. The planning and preparation for this flight
began in the spring of 1931 with the flight scheduled for the early
summer. The two men formed an equal partnership -- Herndon's
family supplying the money and Pangborn providing 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. In late June, as their flight preparations
neared completion, their hopes for an around-the-world record
suffered a serious setback. In the last week of June, Wiley Post and
Harold Gatty circumnavigated the globe in the time of 8 days 15
hours, 15 minutes. Using essentially the same route that Pangborn
and Herndon had decided upon, Post and Gatty had lowered the
record by over 11 days. Pangborn and Herndon now not only faced
the challenge of making the flight, but more importantly of lowering
the time of the Post-Gatty Lockheed monoplane. Determined to
proceed, Pangborn reasoned that despite the Bellanca's slower
airspeed, its greater range (hence, fewer refueling stops) and rough
field take-off ability would provide the necessary advantage in
breaking the Post-Gatty record.
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. A few days earlier, only Pangborn's skill as a
pilot averted a tragedy. In attempting to take off from the shorter
Roosevelt Field No. 1, Pangborn was forced to dump part of the 830
gallons of fuel in order to get the plane airborne enough to clear a
hangar at the end of the runway.
After crossing the Atlantic, Pangborn and Herndon landed in Wales.
They flew on to London, Berlin and Moscow. Upon leaving Moscow
for Siberia, the two were almost ten hours behind the time of Gatty
and Post. Further difficulties plagued them 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, their last stop in Siberia. 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 Gatty-Post
time, 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
nonstop 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. Enroute, 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 takeoff 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
successfully complete the first non-stop Trans-Pacific flight. First,
the Bellanca would be overloaded 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 that 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 from 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 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, made 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 non-stop
almost 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Although it was a feat
which equaled or exceeded the accomplishment of Charles A.
Lindbergh in his 1927 Atlantic crossing (a crossing that had been
made many times before), neither public acclaim nor financial
success materialized for Pangborn and Herndon. 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
After landing in Wenatchee, the "Miss Veedol" was trucked to
Seattle where the landing gear was rebuilt and refitted. Pangborn
and Herndon then flew on to New York to complete their
round-the-world flight. They had not established a new speed
record, but they had been the first to cross the Pacific. As with the
Gates Flying Circus and The Flying Fleet, the around-the-world
flight proved to be a paradox for Pangborn. The Pacific crossing
brought him recognition, but no commercial success.
The 1930s continued to be active years for Pangborn. In 1932, he
piloted the first night air-express from New York to Los Angeles. The
following year, he demonstrated Fairchild Aircraft in Columbia,
South America. In 1934, he joined with the flamboyant Colonel
Roscoe Turner for the MacRobertson Air Race.
The MacRobertson Air Race -- from London, England to Melbourne,
Australia -- was one of the premier air competitions in the world.
Pangborn served as co-pilot and navigator to the flashy Roscoe
Turner. After a number of harrowing experiences during the almost
12,000-mile trip, Turner and Pangborn finished third. Only an
overheating engine on the last leg of the flight prevented them from
finishing second with their Boeing-247-D.
The MacRobertson Air Race proved to be Pangborn's last major air
competition as he moved into manufacturing and industry positions
with various companies as a test pilot and design consultant. In
1935, he began an association with Burnelli Aircraft as a test and
demonstration pilot which would survive into the post-World War II
period. That same year, he also became the Chief Test Pilot for
Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of New Castle, Delaware. In 1937, he
demonstrated Burnelli Aircraft in England and Europe for
Cunliffe-Owen through the late 1930s where he tested military
aircraft. When the war broke out in Europe in late 1939, Pangborn
joined the Royal Air Force and assisted in organizing the R.A.F.
Ferry Command. He recruited pilots throughout the United States
and Canada for the Ferry Command and Eagle Squadron. From
1941 through the end of the war in 1945, Pangborn served as
Senior Captain, Royal Air Force Ferry Command during which time
he made approximately 170 trans-ocean flights (crossing both the
Atlantic and the Pacific). In 1942, he brought the first Lancaster
heavy bomber to the United States for tests and later returned with
the same plane and demonstrated it to the United States Army Air
Force and major aircraft builders throughout the U.S. and Canada.
During his tour with the Ferry Command, Pangborn flew almost
every type of multi-engine aircraft used during the war.
From the time of his discharge in early 1946, to his death in March
1958, Pangborn was intimately connected with flying, aircraft design
and testing. Throughout this period he ferried aircraft all over the
world. In 1946, he made an airline route survey throughout Mexico
for an American-Mexican airline. He worked as a test pilot and
engineer for Burnelli on the radically designed lifting-body aircraft
and as a test pilot for Lear Aviation of Santa Monica, California.
Pangborn was responsible for the original alterations on the
Learstar, which resulted in less drag. He also worked as a private
pilot for a construction company.
During his forty-year aviation career, Pangborn had flown to all
parts of the civilized world without major damage to his aircraft. He
held pilot's license number 240 and was, at the time of his death
instrument-rated to fly single or multi-engine, land or sea planes. He
had amassed more than 24,000 flying hours during his lifetime.
Thank you to the Washington State University for the above
ARRANGEMENT AND DESCRIPTION OF WASHINGTON STATE
The Clyde Edward Pangborn Papers have been arranged into eight
series: Correspondence, Subject File, Business and Financial
Records, Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, Photographs,
Scrapbooks, Memorabilia and Over sized Material.
|Belly landing at Fancher Field
in East Wenatchee following
|Clyde "Upside-Down" Pangborn
He had amassed more than
24,000 flying hours during his
lifetime and never hurt a
passenger. He held pilot's
license number 240.
|October 5th 1931
Clyde Pangborn &
Hugh Herndon Jr.
Moments after landing in
Wenatchee Washington after
41 hours 15 minute Pacific
Clyde made the flight in his
socks for less weight.
|Pangborns barn storming
days in which Clyde held the
record of air to air crossings
from plane to plane all with
out a parachute. He did
however get roughed up a
bit attempting a motor car to