Have you ever wondered how it is to fly for one or two days without stopping? How about 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds? This is the world record for an endurance flight and it was established by Robert Timm and John Cook in 1959. But where did it all began?
In 1958 the Hacienda hotel in Las Vegas wanted to attract more guests because it was not as successful as other hotels in the city as it was far away and they were running out of advertisement ideas. One day a slot machine mechanic, Robert Tim, came forward with a unique plan to make the longest flight in history, without ever touching the ground. The goal was to beat the record of 46 days, 20 hours but a few months before take off the record was broken in Dallas and it was set to 50 days 18 minutes 20 seconds, so their task just became a little bit harder. In exchange for putting the name of the Hacienda hotel on the side of the airplane, the two venturesome pilots got $100.000.
For this historical flight, Robert and John bought a Cessna 172 with 1.500 hours of total airframe time and started to make changes to it: firstly, they added a 360 liters Sorenson tank, then removed the copilot seat and put a bed in its place, added a sink and lastly, they changed the engine with a new one, a Continental Motors Corp six-cylinder 145-horsepower engine. Avionics included a Narco Omnigator MK II and a Mitchell autopilot and all modifications took nearly a year. Timm also installed through-firewall plumbing so that the engine oi and oil filters could be changed without shutting it off. They agreed that both will work in 4-hour intervals, one will rest and one will pilot the aircraft. Their aircraft was registered N9217B.
Photo of a Cessna 172, like the one used by Robert and John
The team took off on December 4th, 1958 from Las Vegas and flew around the city for the first two just in case they had to land but after a while, they started to fly further into the deserts of California and Arizona. Since they had to stay in the air for more than 50 days without ever landing at all, they had to find a way to refuel without using solar panels or air-to-air fueling. They flew alongside a pickup truck, matching its speed, extended a hose from the airplane, and while refueling they got their water and meals, made by the Hacienda hotel chefs. This process took them only 3 minutes, did it twice a day, and took place more than 128 times. Sometimes weather or inevitable glitches upset the schedule, and a new rendezvous was worked out by radio.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve passed without any complications. They have brought comic books and did small exercises to keep entertained and busy as much as possible. But Cessnas are small and loud aircraft so the engine sound, isolation, and exhaustion took a toll on John and Robert. On the thirty-sixth day, Cook was resting while Tim was flying the plane until he dozed off but luckily the autopilot was engaged and the plane flew 30 minutes to the Mexican border until Tim woke up. On day 39 the generator failed which meant the plane had no heat, no light, and no autopilot but they did not give up. After 11 more days, on day 50, January 23, 1959, Hacienda broke the record for the longest continuous flight ever made in history but the team wanted to go on to be sure that no one would break their record anytime soon and flew for 2 more weeks.
After 60 days the engine started to have some problems due to carbon deposits on spark plugs and in the combustion chamber, so they could not gain altitude anymore so on February 7th, 1959, after 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes and 150.000 miles of flying, the Hacienda Cessna 172 touched back down at McCarren Field and got a place in record books. A record that still stands today. The airplane is displayed at Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum.
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