Chapter 6: Famous Aviators of Floyd Bennett Field
Floyd Bennett Field was the origination point and in some cases the return point of many record-setting and record-breaking aviation feats. The field, not having lived up to New York’s expectations of becoming a major commercial field, was a perfect spot for the multitudes of aviation pioneers and daredevils to launch their flights. The first of many record-breaking flights was in 1931 by Russell Boardman and John Polando. They took off from Floyd Bennett Field and landed in Turkey to set a long distance record. The field had many air races with it being the finish line for the Bendix Trophy Race. The 1932 Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank, Ca. to Floyd Bennett was won by James Hiazlip setting a trans-continental speed record of 10 hours and 19 minutes. This record was not to be long-lived. In the 1933 Bendix Race, Col. Roscoe Turner, a close friend of Hiazlip, set a new cross country record by completing the same flight in 10 hours, 4 minutes and 5 5 seconds. Turner always flew with his pet lion until it got too big. In the 1936 Bendix Race, three of the top five finishers were women. Women played a large role in the aviation community at the field. Annette Gipson set a speed record for 100 kilometers for an aircraft weighing less than 1 000 pounds. Her average speed was 123.23 KPH. An annual all women’s race, named after Gipson, was held at the field. In the 1933 Annette Gipson all women’s race, Henrietta Sumner won the race. Twenty-three leading aviatrices competed in this race for an $850 first prize. On 1 February 1932, Ruth Nichols, flying a Packard Lockheed monoplane, set an altitude record at the field of 19928 feet for oil burning planes.
By far, one of the most famous aviatrices of Floyd Bennett Field was Amelia Earhart. She is credited with many firsts as a female pilot. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic, the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo, the first woman to cross the Atlantic twice, first woman to fly an autogyro, first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and first woman to complete a non-stop trans-continental flight. In the 1936 Bendix Trophy Race, flying a Lockheed Electra, she finished fifth even after her aircraft developed fuel line problems. At the time she entered the Bendix Race she was already planning an around-the-world hop to be flown as close to the equator as possible. A year later, in 1937, she took off on that flight but never returned. On 20 November 1937, a large air parade was held at Floyd Bennett Field in memory of Amelia Earhart. Planes from the Navy, Coast Guard and Army were present at the parade as were many civilian aircraft.
At 0541 on 5 August 1933, Maurice Rossi and Paul Codos left the field and established a new long distance record by flying to Rayak, Syria in 56 hours. In 1935, Jimmy Doolittle, using an American Airlines aircraft set a trans-continental speed record for passenger transports.
On 15 July 1933, one-eyed Wiley Post took off from Floyd Bennett in his plane the Winnie Mae on a solo round-the-world flight. Traveling 15,957 miles, Post set his plane down on the same spot he had taken off from 7 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes later. His plane was a Lockheed Vega.
The round-the-world time set by Post would be untouched for five years. Many pilots attempted to break his record, but all met with failure except one. Again from Floyd Bennett Field on 10 July 1938, Howard Hughes and a crew of four set out on a round-the-world flight to publicize the coming of the International Exposition to New York. His plane, a silver monoplane named New York Worlds Fair 1939 completed and landed back at the field in 3 days, 19 hours and 17 minutes.
One of the most novel flights from the field was that of Douglas ” Wrongway ” Corrigan. On 17 July 1938, Corrigan was to take off on a non-stop cross country flight in a $325 used plane. Early in the morning of that July day, Corrigan radioed the airport manager asking him which way he wanted him to take off. The airport manager replied, “Any way you want, just not towards the buildings on the west side of the field”. After taking off he noticed that his panel compass was not working so he had to use the one that he had set on the floor of his cockpit. Two hours into the flight he flew over a large city which he took to be Baltimore but was actually Boston. Eight hours into the flight he noticed a large fuel leak. The cockpit had filled with 6 inches of fuel on the floor. Fearing the fuel would ignite from the hot exhaust, he punched a hole through the bottom right hand side of the cockpit floor to allow the fuel to drain. He then increased the rpm’s of his engine to make the most of the remaining fuel. He came down through a layer of clouds only to realize that the water below him had to be the Atlantic Ocean. Deciding that land had to be straight ahead, he pressed on. Shortly thereafter, he came upon Ireland and landed in Dublin. He was immediately placed into custody by Irish authorities because he did not possess a visa. A short time later, he was turned over to the American Ambassador and sailed back to New York and revisited his point of takeoff. The crowds cheered him upon his return and The New York Post even published the headline of the newspaper backwards.