World’s Longest Flight

Wycombewanderer, Going Postal
Pilot Bob Timm

Obviously satellites go millions of miles but they are unmanned, man had been to the moon, but that was using rocket power.

These days with fuel efficient jet engines, composite air-frames, computers to aid pilots fly the best possible routes, you would think that today’s airlines fly the longest flights ever using naturally aspirated means. there has of course been a solar powered circumnavigation of the globe, but even that doesn’t come close. So if you’re thinking of some high tech military flight using air to air refuelling to stay aloft, that’s where you’re wrong this flight had no air to air refuelling.

The longest flight ever was made in a Cessna 172 with a standard non turbo engine with a fixed propeller.

Well it started as you might have guessed in the US, Las Vegas to be more precise and ended there as well.

In 1956 a new casino, the Hacienda opened in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t in a good place, some might say that applies to the whole of the city, it was outside of the strip and couldn’t attract enough trade, so they needed some publicity. One of the slot machine engineers, Robert Timm, was a private pilot and came up with a plan to break the existing longest ever flight he needed sponsorship and the casino needed publicity, and so the casino chucked him 100,000 dollars and said do your worst, well he did.

He bought a second hand 172, stripped out the rear seats and fitted a 95 gallon fuel tank,put in a brand new engine, he modified the oil lines so that he could top up the oil in flight and removed the passenger seat to put a mattress in, a small sink was added ostensibly to have a wash in but was most likely used to take a piss in and then thought fuck, I can’t fly 24 hours a day, so he had to find someone to help and he did, an experienced airline pilot and aircraft mechanic, John Cook and convinced him to join him.

Wycombewanderer, Going Postal
John Cook, Bob Timm, actor Preston Foster and Hacienda owner Doy Bayley

On Dec 4th 1958 the intrepid pair took off bound for, well nowhere in particular, for the first few days they circled Las Vegas just making sure they knew a field to land at if need be and run the brand new engine in that Timms had fitted.

Now I hear the keen eyed amongst you thinking hang on flying for days without landing to refuel even with an extra tank how they manage that?

Well they had practised beforehand and rather than to air to air refuelling, they mastered ground to air in-flight refuelling by flying above a disused road, dropping down a line and hauling up a hose from a tank on the back of a truck travelling at the same speed, each refuelling took approximately three minutes and had to be done two or three times a day, food was brought from the casino and hauled up by the same method. I guess they just chucked shit out of the door.

Wycombewanderer, Going Postal
Refuelling Endurance 172

Now Cessna 172s are pretty good these days, but back then they were noisy and not particularly comfortable but this one did have an autopilot and with four hours on four hours rest for both pilots the days turned into weeks and bored or maybe because of complaints from air traffic control around Las Vegas they headed out to the desert to fly the bulk of their attempt until day 36 when disaster nearly struck, Timms was at the controls and flying on the basic autopilot, he fell asleep, fortunately he woke up before the plane ran out of fuel in the tanks and was able to avoid a night crash in the desert miles from where anyone would be looking for them and was able to turn back and find the refuelling truck

Two weeks later they broke the existing record of 50 days flight which had been set shortly before they started on their attempt but rather than call it a day and be happy to have their names in the record books, these two wanted it to stay there for a long time so they just carried on flying.50 days turned to 60, when they started to get engine problems due to carbonisation in the pistons and they were having difficulty climbing and maintaining speed and so on 7th Feb 1959 after 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes of flying covering over 150000 nautical miles the two barnstormers landed, a record that still stands to this day.
 

© Wycombewanderer 2018
 

Audio file