Dole Air Race

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Dole Air Race Moviereel(Prelinger Archives)
Mildred Doran

The Dole Air Race, also known as the Dole Derby, was a tragic air race across the Pacific Ocean from northern California to the Territory of Hawaii in August 1927. Of the 15-18 airplanes entered, eleven were certified to compete but three crashed before the race, resulting in three deaths. Eight eventually participated in the race, with two crashing on takeoff and two going missing during the race. A third, forced to return for repairs, took off again to search for the missing and was itself never seen again. In all, before, during, and after the race, ten lives were lost and six airplanes were total losses. Two of the eight planes successfully landed in Hawaii.

The Dole prize[edit]

James D Dole

Inspired by Charles A. Lindbergh's successful trans-Atlantic flight, James D. Dole, the Hawaii pineapple magnate, put up a prize of US$25,000 for the first fixed-wing aircraft to fly the 3,870 kilometers (2,400 mi) from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii, and US$10,000 for second place.[1]

The Transpacific Record[edit]

The first transpacific flight had already taken place, twice over. On 28 June, about a month after Dole posted the prizes, Air Corps Lieutenants Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger flew a three-engine Atlantic-Fokker C-2 military aircraft from Oakland Municipal Airport to Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu in 25 hours and 50 minutes. Ernie Smith and Captain C.H. Carter had arrived earlier for the attempt, but due to mechanical difficulties, took off two hours after Maitland, and returned with a broken windshield. Carter quit after the record was lost, but Smith hired Emory Bronte as a navigator, and the City of Oakland, a small Travel Air 5000 civilian monoplane, took off again on July 14.[2] Upon running out of fuel 26 hours and 36 minutes later, they crash-landed in a thorn tree on Molokai. Dole disqualified both of them from his prizes because they did not land in Honolulu (the Air Corps flight had been planned months prior to the prize announcement and had no intent to land other than at Wheeler).

The Dole Air Derby[edit]

The draw started at the Matson Building

The race began on 16 August 1927. The fifteen competitors were seen off by a crowd estimated to include 75,000 to 100,000 persons.

The draw for starting position in the Dole race was held on 8 August in the office of C. W. Saunders, California director of the National Aeronautics Association, in the Matson Building in San Francisco.

Two days after the draw, United States Navy Lieutenants George D. Covell and R. S. Waggener took off from San Diego, California in their Tremaine Humming Bird to fly to Oakland, flew into a fog bank, crashed into an ocean cliff, and died. The next day, Arthur V. Rogers took off for a test flight at Western Air Express Field at Montebello, California, circled, came about to land, suddenly dived into the ground, and died.

Meanwhile, Mildred Doran, Auggy Pedlar, and navigator Manley Lawling were flying into Oakland when their aircraft developed engine trouble. They successfully landed in a wheat field in the San Joaquin Valley, but had trouble making repairs because they no longer had any tools. Doran was quoted as stating, "We threw [the tools] off at Long Beach because they were in the way and cluttering things up." Lawling was later replaced by Vilas R. Knope when Lawling could not satisfy the race committee of his navigational skills. He reportedly got lost over Oakland.

Then, on 11 August, as J. L. Giffin and Theodore S. Lundgren approached Oakland, their aircraft, an International CF-10 Triplane, the Pride of Los Angeles, crashed into San Francisco Bay, but the two men were unhurt.

By 16 August, the starting line-up had diminished to eight:

The initial take offs were plagued with trouble. Oklahoma took off first just before 11am. The crew would eventually abort the flight over San Francisco with an overheating engine.[5] She was followed by El Encanto, which had not cleared the runway before she swerved and crashed. Pabco Flyer lifted momentarily into the air, then crashed some 7000 feet from the runway. Their crews were not hurt. Golden Eagle took off smoothly and flew out of sight. Miss Doran succeeded in taking off, but circled back and landed less than ten minutes later. Then Dallas Spirit returned to Oakland. Aloha and Woolaroc took off uneventfully, and Miss Doran succeeded on her second attempt. Pabco Flyer also tried and crashed a second time.

Woolaroc flew a great circle route flying at 4,000 to 6,000 feet of altitude. The navigator Davis used sextants and smoke bombs to calculate course and wind drift. They were greeted in Hawaii and escorted by a Boeing PW-9 out of Wheeler Field. Goebel and Davis won the race in 26 hours, 17 minutes, earning them the US$25,000 first prize. Aloha arrived in 28 hours, 16 minutes, earning Jensen and Schluter the US$10,000 second prize. Neither Golden Eagle nor Miss Doran were ever seen again.

The search for the Golden Eagle and Miss Doran was aided by three submarines, USS R-8 , USS S-42 , and USS S-46 . After repairing Dallas Spirit, Erwin and Eichwaldt joined the search leaving Oakland for Honolulu. Neither were seen again.

Woolaroc has survived and is on display at the Woolaroc Museum in Oklahoma.

1927 Dole Air Derby

The Racers in Detail[edit]


Dole Air Race
Model name Launch Position Pilot, Navigator Notes
Travel Air 5000 Oklahoma 1 Bennett Griffin Al Henley Blue with Yellow wings
Goddard Special El Encanto 2 Norman A. Goddard and Kenneth C. Hawkins Silver
Breese-Wilde Model 5 Pabco Pacific Flyer 3 Livingston Gilson Irving Orange


  1. ^ "Dole Derby". Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Plane and Pilot. July 1967. 
  3. ^ Ed Phillips (Spring 1985). "Woolarc!". AAHS Journal. 
  4. ^ Ed Phillips (Spring 1985). "Woolarc!". AAHS Journal. 
  5. ^ Ed Phillips (Spring 1985). "Woolarc!". AAHS Journal. 
  6. ^ The Evening News. 16 August 1927. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]