Vanderbilt’s Air Journey in South America, 1937

William K. Vanderbilt II saw the oceans of the world from the decks and wheelhouses of his ocean-going yachts, while he circumnavigated the globe in 1928-1929 and in 1931-32.

In the early 1930s, while on the Alva expedition, Vanderbilt flew several routes in South America, in his own amphibious Douglas Dolphin. The plane traveled with him on his 264-foot yacht in a cradle suspended over the quarter-deck.

Vanderbilt's Sikorsky S-43 in Oakland, California, 1938
Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 in Oakland, California, 1938

“These little nips at the magnificent countries that lie to the south of us only whetted our appetites for the really comprehensive voyage we had in view,” he later wrote. After several years of dreaming about a trip by air around South America, he purchased a 12-passenger Sikorsky S-43 amphibious airplane, similar to those operated by Pan-American Airways.

Vanderbilt planned an expedition that left on this day, January 18, in 1937, from his home on Fisher’s Island, Florida. He was accompanied by his wife, Rosamund, and their friends Edie and Robert Huntington.

Vanderbilt hired Earl F. White, whom he called “one of the most reliable and resourceful aviators in the game,” as his pilot. A former Pan-American pilot, White also had set several American flight records. He was assisted by mechanic Henry Gerstung, who was a licensed pilot, as were the Huntingtons.

On the three-week trip, Vanderbilt kept a detailed log and notes. Later that year, he privately published one thousand copies of a book about the journey, Flying Lanes – Being the Journal of a Flight Around South America and Over the Andes.

The Vanderbilt Museum, over the next three weeks, will post some excerpts from Flying Lanes.

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