Clyde Edward Pangborn

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Clyde Edward Pangborn
Clyde Pangborn.jpg
Born (1895-10-28)October 28, 1895
Bridgeport, Washington
Died March 29, 1958(1958-03-29) (aged 63)
Spouse(s) Swana Beaucaire
Parent(s) Max Pangborn
Opal Lamb

Clyde Edward Pangborn (October 28, 1895 – March 29, 1958) also known as "Upside-Down Pangborn" was an American aviator who performed aerial stunts during the 1920s. Along with his co-pilot, Hugh Herndon, Jr., Pangborn was the first person to fly non-stop across the Pacific Ocean.

Early life and World War I[edit]

Clyde Edward Pangborn, son of Max Pangborn and Opal Lamb Pangborn, was born in Bridgeport, Washington near Lake Chelan. His exact birthdate is uncertain. He used 1893, 1894, 1895, and 1896, on various documents, changing his age to appear older or younger as needed. The 1900 Federal Census lists Clyde Pangborn (b. October 1893) and his brother Percy (b. Jan 1891) living with their mother Ola [sic.] in Spokane, Washington. Census day was June 1, 1900.[1] In 1910 Clyde (age 16) and Percy (age 19) were boarders with the Alfred Heimark family in St. Maries, Benawah County, Idaho. Census day was April 15; Clyde would not be 17 until October.[2] "1895" was used on his World War I draft registration in Shoshone, Idaho.[3][4] When he was two years old, his parents divorced and he moved to Idaho with his mother. He graduated high school in 1914 and enrolled in the University of Idaho, where he studied civil engineering for two and a half years. Pangborn was a first cousin of American composer George Frederick McKay (1899-1970) who grew up in Spokane, WA. and used the pen-name Arthur Pangborn for lyrics in some of his compositions.

Following college, Pangborn worked briefly as an engineer for a mining company before joining the Air Service during World War I. He completed flight training, and he was subsequently stationed as a flight instructor at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. While teaching cadets how to fly the Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane, Pangborn learned to roll his plane onto its back and fly upside-down for extended periods, earning him the lifelong nickname "Upside-Down Pang" from his fellow pilots.

Exhibition flying[edit]

After the war, Pangborn took up exhibition flying and aerial acrobatics at air shows, which he would continue doing for the next nine years. Most of his performances were part of the Gates Flying Circus, of which he was an owner. Early in his career, he was injured when he fell out of a speeding car as he attempted to jump onto a flying plane; this would be his only serious injury. He received national fame after assisting in a mid-air rescue of stuntwoman Rosalie Gordon, who had become caught on Pangborn's landing gear while demonstrating a parachute jump during an exhibition.[5]skydive. During his time in the Flying Circus, Pangborn flew with over 500,000 passengers and flew nearly 125,000 miles. He also met Hugh Herndon, who would later be his co-pilot in the first trans-Pacific flight.

The Flying Circus disbanded in 1929. Pangborn continued flying with several other businesses he owned, but they all collapsed due to the onset of the Great Depression. As a result, he turned his attention to breaking world records in flight.

Failed attempt to circumnavigate globe[edit]

In 1931, Pangborn and Herndon sought to fly around the world and break the current record of 20 days and 4 hours, set by the airship Graf Zeppelin in 1929. Herndon had financial backing from his wealthy New York family. However, while they were still planning their flight, the record was broken by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty and re-established at 8 days and 15 hours. Pangborn and Herndon attempted the flight anyway, taking off from New York on July 28, 1931 in their red Bellanca J-300 Long Distance Special,[6] the Miss Veedol, but poor weather conditions forced them to abandon their efforts halfway through the trip, while in Siberia.[7]

Trans-Pacific flight[edit]

Pangborn and Herndon in Japan.

With their eyes on a $25,000 prize, Pangborn and Herndon next decided to attempt the first nonstop trans-Pacific flight. They flew from Siberia to Japan in preparation. In the spirit of documentation, Herndon took several still pictures as well as some 16mm motion pictures, which included some of Japan's naval installations. Because of the photography, combined with their inadequate documentation to enter the country (a fact they hadn't been aware of), the men were jailed. They were eventually released with a $1000 fine, but they were allowed only one chance to take off in Miss Veedol; if they returned to Japan, the plane would be confiscated and the men would return to prison.

Other complications hampered the flight. Pangborn and Herndon's maps and charts were stolen by the nationalist Black Dragon Society, who wanted a Japanese pilot flying Japanese equipment[8] to be the first to complete the endeavor. They also had extremely precise calculations for their flight, leaving no room for error; Miss Veedol had to be overweighted with fuel, way beyond the manufacturer's recommendation (650 gallons stock was expanded to 915[6]), and they would need to abandon their landing gear after take-off to reduce drag.

Pangborn and Herndon finally took off on October 4, 1931 from Sabishiro Beach, Misawa, Aomori, Japan. Their destination was Seattle, Washington, just under 5500 miles[9] (8500 km) away, a distance exceeding Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris by 2000 miles. Three hours after takeoff,[10] a problem arose: the device intended to jettison the landing gear partially failed. The gear was ejected, but the two root struts remained. Pangborn was forced to climb out on the wing supports barefoot at 14,000 feet in the air to remove them.

Later, the engine nearly quit as Herndon neglected his responsibility to pump fuel from the fuselage tanks to the wing tanks, which feed the engine. Within a few hours, the upper[clarification needed] tanks again went dry—this time the engine did quit running. Because there was no built-in starter, Pangborn dove the airplane from cruise altitude and pulled out at 1,400 ft (430 m) to get the engine started.

They almost ran into Mount Rainier when Vancouver, BC, and Seattle were fogged in and Herndon again had the airplane off course. From there they decided to fly to Boise where they could claim the furthest distance record along with the nonstop transpacific. Due to fog, Boise, Spokane, and Pasco,[11] Washington, were unavailable, so they turned back, to Wenatchee, Washington. They belly landed on a strip cut out of the sagebrush on Fancher Field near what is now East Wenatchee. Pangborn's mother, brother, and the representative from the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, had already assumed Wenatchee was their destination and were there waiting for their arrival. The flight from Japan took 41 hours and 13 minutes.[12] A memorial to the historic flight is located near the landing site, and the propeller damaged from the landing is on display in the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. The regional airport, Pangborn Memorial (EAT) in East Wenatchee, also honors his accomplishment.

Miss Veedol was trucked to Seattle where she was repaired and the landing gear replaced. Pangborn and Herndon left from Seattle and continued to New York to complete their world flight. Although news of the flight did circulate, Pangborn did not receive much financial benefit as a result; however, he continued to fly as an airmail pilot, air racer, a test and demonstration pilot and delivered multi-engine bombers to the Allies during World War II. Pangborn's experience with trans-Pacific flight and sighting of Japanese capabilities led him to warn of potential for Japanese bombardment of the United States as early as 1935.[13]

1934 England-Australia race[edit]

In 1934, Pangborn, along with Col. Roscoe Turner, flew a Boeing 247 in the MacRobertson Race. Turner and Pangborn came in second place in the transport section (and third overall), behind the Boeing 247's eventual rival, the new Douglas DC-2.

1936 Moscow flight[edit]

In 1936 the Vance Flying Wing was bought at auction in 1936 for $2500 by the Mason Aircraft Corporation. Pangborn planned on using the aircraft for a Dallas, Texas to Moscow Flight.[14] Pangborn was detained near the Latvian frontier when he entered the country without a visa. He was released on July 21, 1937 and flew on to Moscow after help from New York Congressman William Sirovich.[15]

World War II[edit]

When the war broke out in Europe in late 1939, Pangborn joined the Royal Air Force and assisted in organizing the RAF Ferry Command. He recruited pilots throughout the United States and Canada[16] for the Ferry Command and Eagle Squadron. From 1941 through the end of the war in 1945, Pangborn served as Senior Captain, Royal Air Force Ferry Command during which time he made approximately 170 trans-ocean flights (crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific). In 1942 he brought the first Lancaster heavy bomber to the United States for tests and later returned with the same aircraft and demonstrated it to the United States Army Air Forces and major aircraft builders throughout the U. S. and Canada. During his tour with the Ferry Command, Pangborn flew almost every type of multi-engine aircraft used during the war.

Prior to World War II, he also became the Chief Test Pilot for Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of New Castle, Delaware. In 1937 he demonstrated Burnelli Aircraft in England and Europe for Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Company of Southampton, England. Pangborn remained with Cunliffe-Owen through the late 1930s where he tested military aircraft.


He was discharged from the RAF in 1946 and continued his career as a commercial pilot. As part of his work, he pioneered commercial flight paths and helped to develop better aircraft, among other accomplishments. At the end of his life, he was instrument-rated to fly any single or multi-engine, land or sea plane and had more than 24,000 flight hours in the cockpit from his 40 years of piloting.


Clyde Pangborn died in 1958 and was laid to rest with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[17]


His papers were archived at Washington State University.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roll T623_1751, Enumeration District 59.
  2. ^ 1910 Census Roll T624_225, Enum. Dist. 179.
  3. ^ a b "Clyde Pangborn papers." Washington State University. Retrieved: April 28, 2008. Quote: "Clyde Edward Pangborn, son of Max Pangborn and Opal Lamb Pangborn, was born in Bridgeport, Washington; his birthdate is uncertain, with various documents indicating 1893, 1894, and 1896."
  4. ^ World War I draft registration in Shoshone, Idaho
  5. ^ Heikell, Edward and Robert. One Chance for Glory, , ISBN 1468006088, May 22, 2012, p..23
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "Herndon v. Liberty." Time (magazine)May 22, 1933. Retrieved: April 28, 2008. Quote: "In July, 1931 Hugh Herndon Jr., youthful Manhattan socialite, and Clyde Edward Pangborn, hard-bitten barnstormer, took off from New York City for a speed flight around the world. "
  8. ^ Heikell, p..136
  9. ^ "Pangborn vs Lindbergh Flight Comparison." Retrieved: May 21, 2012.
  10. ^ Heikell, p.156
  11. ^ Heikell p. 205
  12. ^ Heikell, p.192
  13. ^ "Chicago Inrage of Jap Bombers Warns Pangborn." The Chicago Tribune, 10 December 1935.
  14. ^ "Vance Flying Wing Plane Brings $2500." Berkley Daily Gazzette, June 2, 1936.
  15. ^ "Pangborn plans to fly on to Moscow." The Ottawa Citizen, July 21, 1937.
  16. ^ "Clyde Pangborn, Wife to Kiss and Make Up." The Milwaukee Journal, August 11, 1940.
  17. ^ "Clyde Edward Pangborn." Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved: April 28, 2008.
  • Heikell, Edward T. and Robert L. Heikell. One Chance for Glory: First Nonstop Flight Across the Pacific. Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace, 2012. ISBN 978-1-468006-087.