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HomeAviationPilots Stay Over 64 Consecutive Days in the Air Without Landing.

Pilots Stay Over 64 Consecutive Days in the Air Without Landing.

In 1958, two men flying a Cessna made a record-breaking nonstop flight of 150,000 miles over the desert west of Las Vegas.

Australian airline Qantas declared last year that it had given the plane the authority to make nonstop connections from Sydney to either London or New York. When Project Sunrise flights start operating in 2025, they will be the longest scheduled commercial flights ever, lasting nearly a full day.

The longest flight, though, was more than two months long. A Cessna 172 that flew nonstop for 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes, covering 150,000 miles (240,000 kilometers), achieved a Guinness World Record in 1958. That is equivalent to traveling around the planet six times or taking fifteen nonstop flights from Sydney to New York.

It Started as a Flying Billboard for the Hacienda Hotel.

An entrepreneur in 1956 sought to advertise his hotel in Las Vegas, and his World War II bomber pilot and slot machine mechanic, Robert Timm, had an idea. Located at the southernmost point of the Las Vegas Strip, the Hacienda Hotel & Casino was eager to market itself as one of the city’s first family-friendly resorts.

Timm persuaded the owner to provide funding for an effort to surpass the record for the longest manned flight, with a prominent display of the Hacienda Hotel on board the aircraft. Finding a Cessna 172 registered N9217B, he spent a year customizing aircraft for the record attempt with the help of a reliable mechanic.

The two modified the four-seater propeller aircraft in a number of ways. The biggest change was putting a gasoline tank in the belly to replace the 47 gallons that were carried in the wings. In addition to replumbing the oil lines so that oil and filters could be changed without stopping the engine, the 95-gallon belly tank had an electronic pump for transferring fuel to the main tank.

Additional features included a collapsible camp toilet, a tiny sink for personal hygiene, and a mattress for naps.

Flying High Once More
The initial attempts to surpass the world record of 47 days, which was established in 1949, proved to be futile. Out of the three unsuccessful attempts, the longest one lasted only seventeen days. Another team broke the previous record by more than 50 days in the interim. After experiencing some incompatibilities with his copilot, Timm discovered John Wayne Cook to be a new copilot and mechanic.

On December 4th, 1958, at 15:52, the two took off. To make sure they didn’t make any covert landings, they first performed a low pass over the airstrip so a chase car could paint white stripes on the tires of the aircraft. When the vehicle “officially” landed, the paint would scuff and leave behind visible markings. The majority of their flight time was spent over the deserts surrounding Las Vegas, with occasional detours to Los Angeles for TV commercials.

And now for the really clever way to refill. A truck with a fuel tank and pump would meet the plane twice a day across a straight section of closed roadway at the border between California and Arizona.

The Best Possible Ground-to-Air Refueling
The electric winch on the Cessna would be used to lower a hook and capture the refueling pipe when it was hovering about 20 feet above the ground. It would take Timm or Cook around three minutes to fill the belly tank by placing the hose into it while standing on a platform outside the door. They had 128 refueling stops during the flight.

The Hacienda provided complimentary gourmet meals. Since the food had to be broken up and crammed into thermos jugs in order to be delivered to the pilots, part of the dish’s charm was lost during transport. Every other day, a quart of water was also sent up for bathing.

After thirty-nine days, the generator broke down, leaving them without heat, gasoline, or lighting. After transferring fuel using a hand pump in the absence of lights and moon, the two had to refill in the pitch-black. They broke the previous record, but they made the decision to fly for as long as they could. The plane’s movements and the roar of the engine made it hard to sleep, even with the mattress. They had fitted a crude autopilot, which allowed them to stay in the air even though Timm dozed off for more than an hour at one point. Days later, the autopilot gave out.

The carbon buildup in the combustion chambers and spark plugs by the beginning of February made it challenging to ascend fully after refilling. They made the decision to land on February 7, 1959, but before they could actually set foot on the ground, the tires’ paint was examined to make sure there were no scuff marks.

It took some lifting to get Timm and Cook out of the Cessna, but their record stands to this day. In Las Vegas, Robert Timm passed away in 1976 and John Cook in 1995. The Hacienda Hotel was destroyed in December 1996. At Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport, the renowned Cessna 172 currently resides over the luggage carousel (LAS).

Other Worthy Mentions

There are four more accounts of people who flew for thirty days or more without making a landing. Between 1939 and 1958, there were numerous efforts made all around the United States. Wes Carroll and Clyde Schlieper took off on a 30-day nonstop flight in a Piper J-3 Cub floatplane on October 1st and ended on October 30th. Two efforts, each lasting more than thirty days, were made in 1949. Dick Riedel and Bill Barris flew the Sunkist Lady, an Aeronca 15 AC sedan, for 42 days between March 15 and April 26. Bob Woodhouse and Woody Jongeward took off on August 24, 1949, from Yuma, Arizona, and flew an Aeronca 15AC Sedan named City of Yuma for 46 days and 20 hours, until October 10. Finally, Jim Heth and Bill Burkhart flew a Cessna 172 for fifty days, from August 2 to September 21, 1958.

For the first time, the record was nearly beaten in August 2022. Zepher, an Airbus-built, high-altitude solar-powered drone, was the competitor. Before it crashed in the Arizona desert, the aircraft was just hours away from shattering the record for the longest continuous flight.

Though there are still a few years before Project Sunrise, consider how you would feel after 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes the next time you’re seated next to someone on an aircraft for a few hours.

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