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Local Boy Makes National News: Miss Veedol 1931

Roni Freund Pete Freund Photography | 10/03/2019 | Aerial Adventures, Blog, Wenatchee Columbia River Valley

By Roni Freund

Dateline East Wenatchee, 2019 --- This weekend marks the 88th Anniversary of an aviation feat that rivals that of men and women whose names are more widely recognized, but Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon did not receive the acclaim of Lindberg or Doolittle. 

On October 5th in 1931, Pangborn, an aerial acrobat and barnstormer born and raised not far from Lake Chelan (Bridgeport, WA) along with his co-pilot, successfully completed the first non-stop flight eastbound across the Pacific Ocean in their red Bellanca J-300 Long Distance Special called the Miss Veedol. The term “successful” was up for debate, as their entire escapade was fraught with challenges they could not have imagined. 

The pair first attempted to break the record for global circumnavigation, but bad weather forced them down in Siberia. They decided to re-route, and attempt a trans-Pacific flight. From Siberia they flew to Japan, to begin preparations, but when they landed the Japanese discovered Herndon had taken photos to document the flight – and captured shots of naval installations – so they were thrown in jail!

After paying a $1000 fine, they were allowed to begin their record-breaking flight, with one caveat: They had one chance to get airborne. If they could not take off, the plane would be confiscated and they would be returned to prison. 

The complications did not end there. In planning for the flight, painstaking calculations and chart maps had to be developed, but they were stolen in Japan. In order to carry enough fuel they would have to jettison the landing gear after takeoff, to reduce drag. There was a mechanical malfunction when attempting to drop the landing gear so Pangborn used his skill at barnstorming, and climbed on the wing at 14,000 feet to release the gear.

At one point the engine stalled when fuel was not pumped between tanks, but quick-thinking Pangborn essentially popped the clutch and restarted the engine. 

Their original destination was Seattle, but as they neared Seattle, fog caused them to nearly crash into Mount Rainier. They changed course, and aimed for another record, the farthest flight distance, along with the first trans-pacific record. More fog prevented them from landing in Boise, Spokane, or Boise, so they turned around and headed for Wenatchee.  

The Miss Veedol landed on her belly in a field at Fancher Field near East Wenatchee. There is a memorial at the site, commemorating the historic flight. The annual Event “Wings and Wheels” takes place to celebrate the anniversary of the flight, where you can see a replica of the Miss Veedol, which has been lovingly constructed, with the plan of recreating the historic flight. Wings and Wheels Festival includes a Car Cruise, Car Show, Swap Meet, Miss Veedol viewing, RC flying field demonstrations, Kids Day Activities live entertainment, raffles and awards. 

Oh – and in case you were wondering what became of the Miss Veedol, they trucked the damaged plane to Seattle where it was reassembled and put on display on the sixth floor of the Bon Marche, to celebrate the record flight. 

That was not the end for the aircraft. Shortly after, It was sold and renamed “The American Nurse” honoring Florence Nightingale. In September of 1932, during a flight to test crew fatigue, the plane was lost over the Atlantic Ocean.

Miss Veedol's bent propeller, the only part of the original plane that still exists, is exhibited in the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center in Wenatchee, Washington.

See a video of the replica Miss Veedol in flight, and great interviews at https://www.voortexproductions.com/missveedol.

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