‘Flying Lanes’: Vanderbilt’s 1937 Air Odyssey

“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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On January 18, Willie and Rose, as they called each other, and their friends Edie and Robert Huntington, boarded the seaplane at the Vanderbilt Florida estate on Fisher Island off Miami. They were about to fulfill one of Willie’s dreams, a long air journey around South America.

Vanderbilt Museum archives Interior of Vanderbilt's Sikorsky S-43 seaplane
Vanderbilt Museum archives
Interior of Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane

Here, Willie describes the plane: “It is an amphibian with retractable wheels that fold into the side of the ship giving the least amount of wind resistance; has a wing span of 86 feet, while the hull is 52 feet long. The ship weighs 9 ¾ tons loaded. We could cruise near sea level at 150 statute miles per hour with 60 percent of power. Twin, 750 horsepower, supercharged Pratt and Whitney engines…capable of delivering 800 horsepower each at the takeoff…”

“The cabin arrangements are very comfortable. The entrance to the ship is through a large hatch aft with a spacious companion-way leading below into a water-tight compartment where the baggage and extra parts are stored in roomy lockers. A wash-room for the passengers is also located here…the main cabin containing four large comfortable armchairs, well upholstered and the only ones of this kind yet installed in a plane. A large full-length sofa and one small chair complete the seating arrangements.

“The cabin is well ventilated, adequately lighted and finished in Flex-wood…a pantry with sink, ice-box and lockers for glass, silver and china; two large clothes lockers and a crew’s wash-room. Then another water-tight door leads into the control space, where instruments reign supreme.

“To a novice the vast display on the instrument board would seem bewildering, perhaps superfluous, but all of them are necessary in a modern ship which leaves nothing to chance in the way of safety appliances, and amongst them we find the automatic pilot that flies the ship for you at the human pilot’s desire. Radio sending and receiving sets, direction finders, both oral and visual and, well, I could go on for an hour, but we must start for we have a long voyage ahead of us.”

Link to British Pathe newsreel report on the seaplane:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8Ltlmd6k4A

To be continued…

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