There are many who love flying, then there are those who refuse to land. Back in the 1900s, the aviation industry witnessed a weird competition to prove the endurance of their flight by staying in the air. Cessna 172 named Hacienda set the record by staying in the air for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds!
We know that when the Wright Brothers invented airplanes in 1903 and successfully flew Flyer, the world of travel changed. No more days and days of travelling by road and no more sea seasickness. One flight could get you from India to the USA in 15 hours, whereas if you travelled by ship, it would take 33 days at the very least. Can you imagine being stuck on a ship for 33 whole days! Therefore, the invention of Airplanes came as a holy grail for voyagers.
As the invention of airplane became popular, so did its production. With so many companies entering the aviation industry, it became imperative for the manufacturers to prove that their plane was better than the rest. That is why flights endurance became a competition. Many people started storing the fuel in the flight as much as possible so that they wouldn’t have to land.
Flight endurance record is the longest amount of time an aircraft would stay in the air. There were different categories in this competition. The limit was the amount of fuel that could be stored in the flight, but that changed with aerial refuelling in 1923. Due to safety reasons, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) no longer recognizes new records of flights afloat so as to not encourage anyone. The world endurance record in a propeller-driven airplane was set about 62 years ago in Cessna 172, which stayed in the air for 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes.
The Race for Endurance
In the 1920s, having your airplane set the record for the highest endurance was an achievement, and the time aloft was calculated in hours. The first record was set by Lt. John Macready and Lt. Oakley Kelly on 5th and 6th October 1922 in a Fokker T-2, which lasted for 35 hours, 18 minutes, and 30 seconds. Due to arial refuelling, however, in 1935, Fred and Al Key stayed aloft in their aircraft named Ole Miss, a Curtiss J-1 Robin for 653 hours, 34 minutes.
The light plane aloft record was then held by Dick Riedel and Bill Barris who managed to fly their aircraft Aeronca Sedan named Sunkist Lady for 721 hours, and their record was broken by the Aeronca Sedan named City of Yuma, piloted by Bob Woodhouse and Woody Jongeward. They flew their aircraft for 1,124 hours straight. They held the record for nine years until The Old Scotchman, a Cessna 172, piloted by Jim Heth and Bill Burkhart flew their aircraft for 1,200 hours and 16 minutes. That’s a whole 50 days of just flying around in the air. You think this is long?
Two fine young men decided to break all these records altogether. In the months of December 1958 to February 1959, Robert Timm and John Cook flew their Cessna 172 named Hacienda, which was modified for this mission solely, for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds! The flight took off from the McCarran Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada and circled the area for all 64 days. The world endurance record which was held by Jim and Bill was broken in mere 123 days before Timm and Cook broke the record with their propeller-driven airplane on February 7th, 1959. What’s more interesting is that the record is still unbroken!
Hacienda Came with a Cause
The reason behind naming their flight Hacienda, was its sponsor. Warren “Doc” Bailey, the owner of the Hacienda Hotel knew the importance of having a good ad campaign, and he took ideas from all the employees working there. Robert Timm was also an employee, working as the slot machine machinic in the family-oriented hotel-casino. He suggested that Bailey should sponsor an endurance flight for publicity. Bailey was convinced and gave $100,000 to Timm for the project.
The Cessna 172 was to be painted with the words ‘Hacienda Hotel’ to draw attention of the people of Nevada. But since Las Vegas was known for gambling and gangster activity, it was difficult to rope people in or get them interested. Therefore, in another marketing strategy, Bailey announced that the flight was a fundraiser for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and it worked. The people were encouraged to bet on the time of the flight staying aloft and the people that would come close to the winning timing, were promised $10,000.
A Sky-full of Troubles!
The lead mechanic for the flight, Irv Kuenzi, modified the Cessna 172. He installed a 95-gallon Sorenson belly tank under the airplane and an electric pump was fixed for the transfer of fuel to the airplane wing tanks. The firewall plumbing was also installed to enable the pilots to change the engine oil and oil filters whenever needed without shutting the engine off and therefore, staying in air.
Even with all the modification, there were some problems that the pilots faced in setting their record. “We had lost the generator, tachometer, autopilot, cabin heater, landing and taxi lights, belly tank fuel gauge, electrical fuel pump, and winch,” Cook wrote. They had broken the previous record on January 23rd but they wanted to make sure that their world endurance record, which they achieved with so much of hard work and difficulty, isn’t wasted and they continued for 15 more days. They achieved what they wanted and even 62 years, no one has broken their record.