Air Adventure over South America, 1937

William K. Vanderbilt II, his wife Rosamund, and friends Edie and Robert Huntington flew around the rim of South America in Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane – from January 18 to February 11, 1937. He kept a detailed log and journal of the trip. Later that year, he privately published a book about the journey, Flying Lanes – Being the Journal of a Flight Around South America and Over the Andes. Here are more details and excerpts from that book.

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After leaving Fisher Island and Miami on January 18, 1937, Willie Vanderbilt and friends flew toward Cuba, where they made their first fuel stop at Nuevitas.

As they flew past the mountains of Haiti, Vanderbilt made some notes about the flight and thought about the man he had hired to fly them, Earl F. White, whom he described as “one of the most reliable and resourceful aviators in the game.”

Vanderbilt Museum archives Pilot Earl F. White and mechanic Henry Gerstung
Vanderbilt Museum archives
Pilot Earl F. White and mechanic Henry Gerstung

White, 49, had been a World War I pilot in the U.S. Air Service, the forerunner of the Army Air Corps and later the Air Force, from 1915 to 1919.

In his book about the journey, Flying Lanes – Being the Journal of a Flight Around South America and Over the Andes, Vanderbilt noted details of White’s extraordinary credentials:

“Made first non-stop flight Chicago-New York establishing world’s official distance record of 727 miles, April 1919. Carried first load of U.S Mail from Bellefonte, Pa., to Cleveland, Ohio, July 1919. U.S. Air Mail Service, Omaha to Cheyenne, April 1923 to July 1925. World’s first scheduled night air-mail service, July, 1914 to July, 1925. Pan-American Airways: Miami-Havana-Puerto Rico route, December 1928 to October, 1931.  With W. K. Vanderbilt, April, 1935 to date. Total flight time to date, February 11, 1937: 5,370 hours, 50 minutes.”

Vanderbilt’s friend Robert Huntington, also a licensed pilot (as was his wife), occasionally took the controls of the seaplane to give White a break, so that he could send and receive Morse code messages. Huntington flew the plane for 40 hours of the trip.

In his journal, Vanderbilt wrote: “I flew the ship eleven hours during the trip and have altogether 104 hours at the controls to my credit. But I have no pilot’s license and my guess is – I won’t get one. A little too old to start at this game, but it is nice to feel one knows a little about the ship and it gives one reassurance that he is not apt to have if he has never actually been at the controls.

“However, I did do the navigating during the voyage whenever we left the coast and was rather pleased with the results, as the drift allowance was a factor that on ship board we did not have to contend with so often. We made good on all our courses, and hit our objective on the nose every time.”

To be continued…

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