Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A long ways to go, and a long time to get there....

   ...to paraphrase a song from "Smokey and the Bandit".  Henry (Harry) W. Lyon, Jr., who was born in Paris, Maine.  His parents had moved to Maine after his fathers retirement from the Navy as an Admiral.  The elder Lyon wanted Harry to attend the U S Naval Academy and Harry did but flunked out.
  Harry became a merchant sailor who started as a deck hand and ended as a ships master.  In 1928 a chance meeting changed his life forever; he met Australian Pilot Charles Kingsford Smith.
  Mr. Smith asked Harry to navigate the "Southern Cross", an airplane, on a trans-Pacific flight.  Harry who had been on/in an airplane only a few times, and had no experience as a Navigator agreed.  That's when the title of this piece comes in to play.
The "Southern Cross" in California 1928 - click to enlarge
Photo: Paris Cape Historical Society via www.mainememory.net
  The aircraft, a Fokker Tri-motor, had been outfitted with a new wooden wing, fuel tanks that could be quickly dumped so that they could add buoyancy, if needed, and just a few other "special" things.  The 14,400 pound airplane had a total of 675 horsepower and a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour.
  Just before 9AM on May 31, 1928 the craft took off from Oakland, California when they crossed the offshore Farrallone Islands, and the accompanying planes turned back they were left alone. 
  At 300 miles out they lost their radio beacon and faced 2100 miles to fly by dead reckoning.  When they spotted Mauna Kea Harry quickly guided them to Wheeler Field for a landing.  Time elapsed 27 hours 28 minutes.
  The next leg was to Fiji was a long one, 3,138 miles.  They took on fuel, 1,287 gallons of gasoline, and weighed a total of 15,800 pounds.  They also took 48 sandwiches, four quarts of coffee and four quarts of water for the four man crew: pilot, co-pilot, radioman and navigator.  After the plane finally lifted off from Wheeler they, once again, were on their own.  They hit some storms and finally landed on a Cricket field on Fiji some 34 hours and 33 minutes later, with only 30 gallons of gas left.
  Leaving Fiji for Australia with more sandwiches, coffee and water, they landed in Brisbane on June 9, 1928 at 10AM., 83 hours and 50 minutes later; and that's a long time to get there.  On landing Harry took a last look at the plane only to find that one section of the wing had been "fixed" with only bamboo and wire!
The four crew members - click to enlarge
Photo: Hamlin Memorial Library via www.mainememory.net

Thelma and Harry Lyon in Portland, Maine 1958
Photo: Paris Cape Historical Society via www.mainememory.net

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