4 September 1936

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4 September 1936: Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (1905–1979) was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, in 14 hours, 55 minutes, 1.0 seconds. With one fuel stop at Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour).

Louise Thaden's pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)
Louise Thaden’s pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Louise Thaden had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license in 1928 and soon set several air speed and altitude records. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating. Blanche Wilcox Noyes (1900–1981) was also a very prominent pilot.

Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C-17R NR15385 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C17R NR15835 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing. It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records. The C17R was powered by a 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.920 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-975E-2 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine producing 450 horsepower for takeoff.

The Beechcraft C17R was single engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers. The airplane got its nickname, “Staggerwing” from the lower wing being placed forward of the upper wing for improved pilot visibility. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with retractable landing gear. The Beech 17 was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms). The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different size and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by a a 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.920 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-975E-2 Whirlwind single row 9-cylinder radial engine producing 420 horsepower continuous, and 450 horsepower for takeoff. This gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and range was 800 miles (1,287.5 kilometers).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 at the finish of the Bendix Trophy Race, Mines Field, Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

The airplane flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy had previously been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it before delivering to the owner. The rear passengers’ seats were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place. After the race, the owner took his airplane to South America. Its status is not known.

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936.(National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)
Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936.(National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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Source: This Day In Aviation