By Jean Hayworth
Jim Kelly, Stephens County's favorite son, since he and Reg Robbins established a new endurance record for continuous flight and in-air refueling, at 174 hours this past May, has returned to the Stephens County Airport. Kelly is flying his brand new Ryan Monoplane that the Ryan Airplane manufacturers awarded him after the historic flight, in May 1929.
Even though the endurance record set by Kelly and Robbins has been broken several times since May, it was this pair who opened the door for others to attempt to fly to new records. The newest endurance record was set just shy of three weeks aloft, in August 1929.
Kelly is slated to return Saturday, Aug. 24 and 25, to take residents up aloft for a "free" ride over the city of Breckenridge and areas of Stephens County.
Kelly was raised on the Stephens County ranch of Joe Winston, located near Caddo. Kelly will be taking residents up Saturday and Sunday and there was a large, interested crowd at the Stephens County Airport to watch and possibly volunteer for a ride. Records indicated Kelly took 40 passengers up for an aerial tour on the first day.
Nationally known local glider designer, builder and pilot, Earl Akin, was a popular choice at airport openings in West Texas. Akin was present for the recent opening of the Graham Airport and had just returned from an appearance at the Sweetwater Airport opening, where he claimed he had his "best flight ever."
Akin made seven exhibition hops during the afternoon performance remarked that he had reached 600 feet altitude, circled the field twice and glided more than three miles.
Akin had two more airport opening performances on his agenda at Big Spring and Amarillo. He earned $200 to $300 for each performance. Those funds helped Akin with his latest plans to make some changes to his glider.
Akin went to Dallas to pick up supplies that included a 10 horse power outboard motor and brackets to mount it on his glider. Akin hoped the small motor was powerful enough to lift his glider off the ground and helped get it up enough to catch a good breeze and then glide. He also had to craft a "special propeller" for the glider that was activated on the ground in conjunction with the small motor. Between the two innovations, Akin hoped to generate enough lift to get him into some currents that he could glide on for longer distances than he had been able to so far.
Up to this point, Akin has used a car pulling the glider and then released it at a certain speed to gain altitude. He also had been pulled by a plane and then released to glide on air currents for short distances.
With the addition of the small motor and specialized propeller, Akin hoped to be more in control of his glider and what it did in the air and how far it would be able to glide.
The body of a young female aviator was found in the bush country of Arizona, six miles north of Wellton, Ariz. Local ranchers had reported they saw a small plane crash. When local searchers got to the scene, they found the body of Marvel Crosson, age 25, who was participating in the 1929 All-Female National Air Derby. The top 20 female aviators had taken off from Santa Monica, Calif. and were headed to Cleveland, Ohio for a $25,000 prize.
Crosson was found 200 feet from her wrecked plane, indicating she had jumped as the plane crashed. However, not soon enough, her parachute had not opened, which meant it had not deployed in time or she waited to late to jump.
Crosson was considered one of America's best known female pilots along with Amelia Earhart. Crosson had just left San Bernadino, Calif. headed to Phoenix, Ariz. for their second overnight stop. When she failed to check in, a search party was sent out after a report from area ranchers that a small plane had dropped into the underbrush near the Gila River bed.
Several other pilots reported that their planes had been tampered with at the overnight stop in San Bernadina and called for an investigation. The women pilots had reported trouble with their planes which included the German aviatrix, Thea Gasche, and Bobbie Trout, former holder of the women's endurance record. Also, pilot Claire Fahy, wife of the current holder of the men's endurance flying record. Another pilot, Opal Kunz, from New York, also hinted at sabotage.
The rumors of possible sabotage leaked out which alluded to "gasoline that had been tampered with or doctored, struts were weakened with acid and motors tampered with." All that made the remaining 14 fliers nervous about continuing the race.
Pilots took extra precautions by double checking everything, having their own support team tend to fueling chores, engine checks and requested that police or area military guard planes at overnight stops.
Also, parachutes were checked. Amelia Earhart refused to have anyone near her parachute as she had packed it herself before she left Santa Monica and had no reason to have anyone check it.
An electric locomotive was reported on the tracks with the Roby and Northern Railroad in West Texas. The electric locomotive had been built in the shops of the West Texas Utilities Co., in Abilene, and was clocked traveling at 50 mph.
The Graf Zeppelin reported rear engine problems that delayed their scheduled departure from Tokyo, Japan early Aug. 22. If repairs were completed in a timely manner, Commander Hugo Eckener hoped to take-off early Friday, Aug. 23, from the Kasumigaura Airport in Tokyo and head to their next stop on the world tour, Los Angeles, Calif. and then back to the starting point at Lakehurst, N.J.