Outstanding Flights: My Glider Trip Across the Continent and We Glider Hopped the Atlantic
Intro and research by Wes Schmid, VAA Director Emeritus, VAA 6688, EAA 3113
Frank Hawks set hundreds of speed records in the 1920s and 30s flying some of that periods fastest, high performance aircraft. One record, however, was not a speed record. It started March 30, 1930 in a glider, towed by an airplane across the United States.
At the time Hawks was Superintendent of Aviation for the Texas Company (Texaco) and had convinced company executives to finance and support a glider flight from San Diego, California to New York city. It was expected a flight of this dimension would spark interest in gliding as well as aviation in general.
A special glider with a fully enclosed cockpit was designed by brothers Wallace H. and R. E. Franklin and was built by Franklin Glider Corp. Named the Texaco “Eaglet” the 50 foot span glider had a 22 to 1 glide ratio. It was fitted with two-way radio and telephone connection to the tow plane, a Waco biplane with a Wright J-5 225 hp radial engine. If successful the flight would be the longest and first transcontinental glider flight under tow ever attempted.
Early in his career Hawks recognized the importance of gliders as recreational vehicles as well as possibly being adaptable for military purposes. The Germans operating under the strict rules imposed on them by the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919 following World War I that restricted designing or operating powered military aircraft. So they took to gliders in a big way. They designed some of the world’s most efficient, top performance sailplanes in which they trained young men in the art of flying—the young men who later formed the nucleus of the German Luftwaffe of World War II.
In America, as the depression deepened, learning to fly was beyond the reach of most individuals. Simple to build primary gliders were introduced and advertised by several companies. One was the Marvin A. Northrup Aeroplane Co., 730 Washington Ave. N, Minneapolis, Minn. advertising plans for $3.00 or a complete building kit for $95.00. Financially, it was still out of reach for most aspiring aviators.
Hawks’ transcontinental flight was basically an effort to stimulate and promote aviation via glider flying.
Hawks was born March 28, 1897 in Marshalltown, Iowa. He learned to fly in the U..S. Army Signal Corp. during World War I. Following the war he barnstormed with the famed Gates Flying Circus. He then flew charter flights throughout Mexico during the mid 1920s and in 1927 participated in the Ford National Air Tour as well as entering his Mahoney Ryan B-1 Brougham in the National Air Races held in Spokane, Washington where he won a speed event. This was also the year Hawks was hired by the Texas Company to head its aviation division.
His first aircraft flying for Texaco was a Ford Tri-motor. He flew throughout the country, giving rides to thousands of people and visited hundreds of cities on a goodwill tour. This aircraft was replaced following an accident with a Lockheed Air Express in which he set several transcontinental speed records.
Next came the most famous of all—Texaco 13—a Travel Air Type R race plane! The aircraft was one of only five built, the prototype of which stunned the aviation world when it won the Thompson Cup Race in 1929. Doug Davis flew the 400 hp Wright Whirlwind J6-9 powered Travel Air-R “Mystery Ship” to an astonishing speed of 194.90 mph in closed course race competition at speeds unattainable by the nation’s latest high powered pursuit planes.
With Texaco 13 Hawks soon established hundreds of intercity and coast-to-coast speed records in the U. S., England and Europe. He entered the 1930 Thompson Trophy Race but was forced out early with engine problems. The aircraft can be seen today at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
A Northrop Gamma 2A named “Texaco Sky Chief” replaced the retired Texaco 13. Powered with a 785 hp two-row 14 cylinder Wright Whirlwind R-1510 engine the all metal Gamma was fully equipped with the latest radio and navigational equipment. It even included an early model automatic pilot. The 48 foot span aircraft carried enough fuel for 2500 miles range at 200 miles per hour cruise. With the Gamma he set many new transcontinental records.
In 1935 Hawks resigned from Texaco and the next year had a special race plane custom designed for him. Sponsored by the Gruen Watch Company and named “Time Flies” it was sleek, with a retractable gear, and powered with a Pratt and Whitney 1830 engine.
After announcing his retirement from racing in 1937, Hawks joined the Gwinn Aircar Company. The Gwinn was designed and promoted as an easy to fly airplane, “as simple as driving a car”. Hawks claimed the Aircar as “fool-proof” incapable of spinning or stalling. He was flying the Aircar on August 23, 1938 with a passenger when both were killed when the aircraft hit telephone and power lines on takeoff and exploded when crashing to the ground. Hawks was just 41 years old.
Captain Frank M. Hawks’ article “My Glider Trip Across the Continent” that appears below is reprinted from the July/August 1930 issue of AVIATION MECHANICS magazine.
My Glider Trip Across the Continent
By Captain Frank M. Hawks
On the thirtieth of March, “Duke” Jernigin and I arose very early in the morning to start our transcontinental flight. We were at the field ready to take off at five a.m., but fog and clouds presented a bad picture for the first scheduled day. It must be realized by those who read this that the first morning’s jump was over a rather high range of mountains and with fog and clouds hanging low over San Diego, it was reasonable to assume that it would be impassable over the mountains.
We waited at the field until about eight o’clock and then took off. With more daylight, of course, the clouds did not appear so dark and we felt that by easing to the South we could circle through the mountain pass and get over into Imperial Valley. The first hour was surely a wiggle, as the clouds were low and we had very little ceiling with which to pick our way over the ridge of mountains over 5,000 feet high. Flying underneath the clouds and so near the mountains made the air very choppy and I bounced around, swayed back and forth and was certainly being initiated in these first hours of flying to being towed behind an airplane.
When we came out into Imperial Valley, more rather rough air struck us, plus the heat from the sands of the arid wastes which lie on all sides of the Valley. At that point, we climbed up to 8,000 feet where the air was clear and smooth. The balance of the flight on into Yuma, the first control stop, was delightful.
There was nothing of particular consequence from Yuma to Phoenix, but at Phoenix I was delighted to encounter, upon cutting loose from the tow-plane, some very splendid air currents which permitted me to soar about for 55 minutes. There was a tremendous crowd of people awaiting us and upon my landing, they became very unmanageable. Only with great difficulty were we able to rush the EAGLET into a hangar and close the doors. We were very tired – this was our first day and we had now covered over 330 miles.
Mr. George W. Lindholm, Manager of the Westward-Ho Hotel, was especially kind to us, as he had arranged a very quiet little dinner in his suite at the Hotel and we were able to rest.
Leaving Phoenix rather late in the afternoon, our flight from there to Tucson was anything but pleasant. We were bucking a 30-mile-an-hour wind which was very rough due to the mountainous country and it took us two hours to travel 105 miles, the last hour being at night. There was also a tremendous crowd at Tucson who had waited throughout the afternoon and who had their cars parked about the airport so that they effected a very beautiful lighting and made our landing easy. We felt very happy that the first day was over. We consider that it was our worst hop, because of the distance we had outlined for ourselves and the extremely mountainous country. However, we were soon to find out that we had plenty of interesting experiences in store for us.
The next morning on our takeoff from Tucson, the telephone line evidently shorted or broke as we were leaving the ground and our communication was broken. There must have been a decided metal mental telepathy taking place as I was no more anxious to continue on to Lordsburgh, New Mexico, than was “Duke.” Consequently, I was delighted when he began to circle about ten miles from the field to return, and I fully realized that this was done for the purpose of repairing the telephone circuit. Just about as we turned, we encountered the roughest air I believe I have ever been in and I was tipped up into a vertical bankout of which I could not control the glider. At the same time there came a decided slack in the cable; because of no communication I could not advise “Duke” of the situation. I was hoping for the best but slipping on a wing momentarily, when all of a sudden the towplane hit a bump which threw it on its wing in the opposite direction and at the same time seemed to accelerate the speed excessively, which caused it to burst forward and snap the cable.
We were about 2,000 feet high and some ten miles from the field. The cable had snapped at the tail of the towplane so I had 500 feet of this material hanging down from the nose of the EAGLET. It did not particularly affect the control of the glider, but it was obvious to me that the gliding angle was affected. I was more anxious to return back to the flying field than to land out among the high brush’ and scrubby trees, so I dropped the cable and foolishly did not spot it. From the altitude that I was flying and with the splendid gliding angle of the EAGLET, I was able to make it back to the field and even circled it a couple of times before landing.
We spent the balance of the day making up a new cable with its fittings and a new telephone communication wire. We were due in El Paso the end of the 31st, and we were still in Tucson, 280 miles away. The following day was April Fool’s Day, and I remarked to my colleagues that it was necessary for us to pull a first-class April Fool’s Day joke and negotiate the 710 miles to make up for our lost time. We left Tucson at six a.m. and that evening at six p.m. I was circling about over Sweetwater, Texas, on schedule and very happy that the mountainous country was behind us.
That day was one of the worst I have ever experienced in my thirteen years of flying. We encountered high winds and rough air continually until we passed the mountainous region and came out over the plains of Western Texas. Near Lordsburgh, we encountered a line squall which is the most violent of air conditions; and, even though endeavoring to dive, both of the airplanes were forced upward and upward. At times I would fly over almost abreast of the tow-plane with the cable stretched to the rear in a hairpin turn, slackened beyond all possible imagination. Only by means of the telephone wire were we able to satisfactorily control our formation and pull through this severe condition. I do not mean to indicate that there was any grave danger, as it was always my privilege to cut loose and make a landing, but of course this would have delayed our schedule again and would not have been at all satisfactory.
The rest of our flight, after leaving Sweetwater the next day, we sailed along without any particular incident until we came to Terre Haute, Ind. Leaving this point for Indianapolis, the cable parted again when we were about seven or eight miles from the field and only some eight or nine hundred feet up in the air. This time there was no particularly violent jerk or unusual bumping. The cable had given good service but evidently was slightly worn at the point where it came out of the tubing and it just naturally gave up as if it was tired. “Duke” waited for me to land first and I, of course, necessarily had to pick a field out of which we could both leave together. I found a fine race-track and it was of sufficient dimensions for a suitable landing and take-off, so after circling it two or three times, I dropped the cable in the center, marking at the same time the spot, and then landed. A minute or so later “Duke” came in and landed along side of me. We spent about an hour repairing the break and took-off so as to complete our journey for the day on schedule.
From here on into Schenectady was also without incident. At Schenectady, I was rewarded with a very delightful thrill when upon cutting loose from the tow-plane, I encountered currents of air which forced the EAGLET up very rapidly. I cut loose at 3,000 feet, the towplane went down and landed, and before I hardly realized it, I had climbed to 6,000 feet. To come down from that altitude, it was necessary for me to fly at 80 miles an hour and push the nose down at a very considerable angle in a dive in order to overcome the upward currents. When arriving at 3,000 feet again, I flew at normal flying speed and once again immediately climbed back up to 6,000 feet. I regret very much that we were so pressed for time that I could not continue soaring about, as I am sure that I could have spent the rest of the afternoon over this place flying about like a buzzard. We were, however, on a schedule and this was the day we were due in New York City, so I came in for a landing and we hooked up and went on our way.
I believe that without question the roughest take-off we had on our entire trip was at Albany. A 35-mile-an-hour wind was blowing on the ground, coming into the field from the South over some high trees, which naturally spilled the air into very rough currents and eddies. The weather man reported a 47 mile an hour wind at 3,000 feet, and the prospects for our flight to New York from Albany were certainly anything but comforting.
It is quite amusing when reflecting back over the experience to recall that there was no flying going on at the field at the time we took off, nor was there any particular desire on the part of the local pilots to make flights on account of the high wind and rough air. Yet, we rode this little 290-pound glider across the field on the runway and faced it into the wind for its last jump, completing the 2860-mile flight. It was necessary for three men to hold the glider carefully on the ground so that it would not blow away. Of course, when I climbed into the seat and was able to grasp the controls, I could hold it on the ground by the control system.
We were off in a jiffy and for the first hour our progress was so slow and bumpy that it was most trying on both of us – and on the last day of this, our transcontinental glider flight. Even the automobiles on the road below were passing us and that is very discouraging to any aviator. The weather was thickening, clouds were becoming darker and fiercer, and we were both anxious concerning the one pass at Peekskill where it was reported that there was a ceiling of only 900 feet, which is none too much. This report, however, proved to be somewhat in error as we had plenty of altitude and were soon on the last stretch into New York with a clear ceiling.
The clear ceiling did not last long, however, as we ran into a very violent rainstorm at Tarrytown which bore down upon us. This somewhat spoiled the arrival as we had planned to fly all over New York City, New Jersey and Brooklyn, pick up the escort planes and really make a gala splurge as a finale. With the heavy rain and lowering clouds it did not seem advisable, and as “Duke” was anxious about a possible forced landing over New York, I cut loose and commenced the last soaring demonstration which ended the flight. It was very gratifying to look down upon an enormous crowd of people who had braved the elements and I was glad that we had stuck to our schedule and arrived on time. We promised to make Van Cortlandt Park at four p. m. and we had not failed. Soon I landed and it was all over.
My only hope is now that there will be a widespread interest in gliding and some real developments take place that will more than repay me and The Texas Company, who sponsored the flight, for the time and effort which was placed on this event. It seems to have accomplished what it was made for – a contribution to Aviation, its development and advancement.
Outstanding Flights BONUS:
Gliders played a significant role in many battles during World War II and were used extensively by both the Allied and enemy armies. They were involved in the initial assaults on D-Day delivering troops, weapons, vehicles and other vital cargo to the beaches of Normandy. A total of 13,909 CG-4A gliders were built in American factories. The tube and fabric gliders had a span of 83 ft. 8 in. and a length of 48 ft. 8 in. with a gross weight of 9,000 lbs. In addition to two pilots the CG-4A was capable of carrying 13 troops or 4200 lbs of cargo–even Jeeps and small artillery pieces.
Here is a little known World War II event that boggles the mind!
One of the most amazing and dangerous glider flights imaginable took place in 1943 when a Hadrian (Waco CG-4A) by the name of “Voo-Doo” was towed by a twin engine Dakota (Douglas C-47) from Canada, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the British Isles.
The flight involved four legs. The first originated from Montreal, Canada on June 23, 1943 to Goose Bay, a distance of 850 miles–the second June 27 to Bluie West One, Greenland, a distance of 785 miles–the third June 30 to Reykjavik, Iceland, a distance of 1,000 miles–and the fourth leg July 1, 865 miles, Reykjavik to Prestwick, Scotland. A 3500 mille flight over the Atlantic ocean completed in 28 hours flying time.
The following article written by RAF Wing Commander Richard Seys, the pilot who made this Outstanding Flight, is reprinted from the July 1944 issue of SKYWAYS magazine.
“We Glider Hopped the Atlantic”
With payload of over a ton, “Voo-Doo” becomes the first glider to make Atlantic hop.
by Wing. Comdr. Richard Seys, RAF
Wearer of Distinguished Flying Cross
Before we took off from Montreal, I must confess to being distinctly frightened by the prospect of flying a glider across the Atlantic Ocean. We were pioneers setting off on what was to prove a big adventure, and I suppose all pioneers have a certain sense of inward misgiving at the start.
What would the next 24 hours bring, triumph or disaster? However, our fears faded once we were airborne. We had a job to do which demanded our utmost concentration. Our eventual success was ample compensation for all our discomforts and anxieties, but we had plenty of trouble on the way.
Let me say at once that flying the Atlantic in a glider is not just a matter of sitting still and watching the towplane do all the work. The glider has to be flown from takeoff to touch-down and only those who have been at the controls know what intense physical and mental strain is entailed.
Before Squadron Leader Gobeil, my copilot, and I made the trip, the majority of people had little faith in glider flying. Bets of five to one were made against a successful Atlantic glider crossing – and there were no takers. The greatest satisfaction we derived from the trip was confounding these skeptics.
The flight was first conceived by Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, Transport Command, when he was commanding the North and South Atlantic bomber ferry service from Canada to Britain. One of the objects of the flight was to lay the foundation for further research by the technical branch of the Transport Command. Sir Frederick had no exaggerated ideas about it.
Of real significance, especially to those who are interested in the glider as a cargo carrier, is the fact that the “Voo-Doo,” a CG-4A glider, carried a pay load of one-and-a-half tons of freight. This cargo consisted mainly of aircraft spare parts and medical supplies urgently needed by our Russian Allies.
With this 3,000-pound load aboard, I was in some doubt regarding the take-off, but the towplane rose slowly just as we were reaching the end of the runway. We in the glider al ready were airborne. We climbed slowly and I waited anxiously for us to make sufficient height. So did the watchers down below, I imagine. We saw them gazing upwards when we circled the airfield at 1,000 feet, and I learned afterwards that most of them expected us to cry off the project and come in to land.
However, it was smooth but slow going until we reached a fairly high altitude. Then, three hours later, our troubles started.
Banks of clouds piled up in front and, in another hour, we climbed still higher. Then it became obvious that we should have to top our ceiling limit before we could hope to fly in clear air. This was impossible, so we held a radio conference with Bill Longhurst, captain of the tug, and decided to try to find a gap in the clouds through which to descend.
For the next three hours, we took a terrific buffeting. The glider was thrown all over the place and the towplane made some pretty exciting lurches. We ran into three snowstorms, accompanied by thunder, and the snow and ice were so thick that the towplane, for the most part, was invisible. Only fifteen feet or so of the towrope could be seen.
The going was very tricky. The glider had to be kept twenty feet above the towplane to avoid pulling it into a stall. Had this happened we should have had to cast off to make a forced landing then and there.
However, we made our first stage, an East Coast airfield, and landed smoothly only twenty minutes behind schedule. I slept solidly for five hours, my limbs aching and stiff from the fight against the elements.
We had another slow but smooth take-off for the final, over-ocean leg and, after an hour and a half of rough flying, we were high above the Atlantic. Strangely enough, the inhospitable ice floes gave me some comfort. Better than nothing if we had to make a forced landing at sea, I thought. True, we had a dinghy, but the Atlantic is large and I am not a sailor.
We discovered we had little time to contemplate the dubious beauty of the waters of the turbulent North Atlantic, however. Our attention was chiefly riveted upon the facetious sounding but vitally important, “angle of dangle” of the towrope which seems to cast a hypnotic spell over one’s eyes. Success or disaster depends on this “angle of dangle” and it is impossible to keep your eyes off it, even if you are supposed to be relaxing.
The noise of the glider was terrific, the rush of air sounding like a freight train racing on worn-out tracks. That sound does not begin to decrease until the speed drops below seventy knots. The cold also was intense; there was no heating system and snow frequently penetrated the cockpit. However, we were kept reasonably warm by the physical effort required to maintain the glider on an even keel.
The sandwiches we brought with us were frozen stiff and we almost broke our teeth when we tried to eat them.
Never has the coast of Britain looked so good when we sighted it after 28 hours of flying. (I might mention here that we had four false alarms – low clouds on the horizon which looked like land.) A few minutes later the towplane gave us a signal to cut loose which we did with considerable alacrity.
We circled the airfield and made a really graceful landing. Our glider came to a standstill and Gobeil and I shook hands. We had achieved the impossible, and were feeling pretty good although we were almost too weary for the interrogation that was to follow, and our bodies were aching from the buffeting we had undergone.
We watched the “Voo-Doo” being unloaded – the front opens up with a jaw-like action – and towed off to a hangar. I folded up my mascot, a red skull cap made from an old hat of my wife’s. Gobeil patted his mascot, a New Zealand “tikki,” and we went inside. We felt we had earned a rest – and a drink!