The first flight between Japan and America was made in 1931.

(Posted on May 15, 2023)

Richard Lindbergh’s world famous non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927 ushered in non-stop flying attempts between Asia and North America. There were five such attempts from Japan to the US from 1930 to 1932. The fourth attempt on October 4th, 1931 by two Americans, Clyde Pangborn  and Hugh Herndon, flying a single-engine Bellanca CH-400 achieved a successful non-stop flight from Misawa, Aomori prefecture to Wenatchee, Washington state in 41 hours and 10 minutes covering a whooping distance of 7,847 km (Lindbergh’s flight was 5,810 km). Their aircraft was dubbed “Miss Veedol”. 


(The photo by Sampsonsimpson)

 (The photo by 633 highland)

The photos show the replica of Bellanca CH-400, which is on permanent display at Misawa Aviation and Science Museum. The museum stands close to “busy” Misawa airport, which is jointly used by the US air force, the Japan Air Self-defense Force and Japan Airlines (operating five domestic flights a day)


Let’s delve into the 1931 flight. It’s interesting to know that the flight was initially intended for breaking the fastest round-the -world flight. So, Miss Veedol took off from New York on July 28th, 1931 and flew east (catching prevailing westerlies), stopping at various places in Europe and Russia. When the American crew reached Khabarovsk, it became apparent that their flight, which had already suffered considerable delay due to bad weather enroute would not be able to break the record, so they decided to abort the flight. Somehow, the crew came to know of a prize money of US$25,000 offered by the Japanese newspaper, The Asahi Shinbun, for a non-stop flight from Japan to the US. They went for it!


Why did they choose Misawa for their point of departure from Japan? First and foremost, Misawa’s Sabishiro beach happened to provide an ideal “air strip”,with hardened ground of clay and ironsand for “heavy” Miss Veedol. Actually, Miss Veedol was modified to drop its landing gear after take-off. The idea was to reduce both weight and drag, enabling the aircraft to fly further.  

                        Pangborn  (left) and Hugh Herndon in Japan in 1931.


During the long and demanding flight, Clyde and Hugh flew the aircraft, making navigational readings and napping alternately. The flight took a great circle route, which is the shortest route to Seattle, the initial landing point. It proved that their navigation was accurate, flying over Canada’s western coast and then Vancouver, but unfortunately, they overshot Seattle. They finally belly landed at Wenatchee as an alternative destination.


In recognition of their feat, Clyde and Hugh won the 1931 Harmon Trophy.

A few words about Miss Veedol. The aircraft was sold soon afterwards, and was renamed “American Nurse.” An attempt was made for a long-distance flight from New York to Rome in 1932. But it turned out that the flight failed and disappeared without trace. A flyable replica of Miss Veedol was constructed and flown for the first time in 2003. It is on permanent display at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Culture Center.  


Clyde Pangborn (circa1893-1958) continued flying thereafter; in 1934, he participated in the MacRobertson Air race from London to Melbourne as a co-pilot covering 12,000 miles and finished third, he joined the RAF Ferry Command during WW2, he flew as a test pilot for various aircraft manufacturers after the war. Perhaps, Pangborn did not turn out to be as flamboyant as Richard Lindbergh, but people in Wenatchee have been paying their respects for his achievement. A local airport is named after him as Pangborn Memorial Airport. 




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