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"Do not rob anything off this ship, it is going to be fixed."

Sikorsky NC809W, Date & Location Unknown (Source:



NC809W was a Sikorsky S-39C S/N 911. It was signed once in the Floyd Bennett Field Register. The date was not specified. Its pilot was William Cleveland. Cleveland noted in the Register that the airplane owner was William Randolph Hearst, Jr. The photograph, left, is from the link to

This airplane was found for sale in the classified advertising section of Aero Digest, January, 1937, below.



"S-39 Sikorsky, Pratt-Whitney 400 hp motor; gray hull, silver wings; RCA radio. Turn and bank, rate of climb, long-distance gas tanks, special stream-lining; beautifully finished. Total time since complete overhaul, 290 hours. NC809W; $13,000 O. J. Whitney Inc., North Beach Airport, Jackson Heights, N. Y."
S/N           Model           Registration(s)

Prototype S-39         NX813M/NX963M  
900           S-39A           NC42V
901           S-39A/B        NC887W
902           S-39B           NC888W
903           S-39A/B         NC802Y
904           S-39A/B         NC803W
905           S-39A           NC804W
906           S-39B           NC896W
907           S-39A/B         NC805W
908           S-39A           NC806W
909           S-39A           NC807W
910           S-39A           NC808W
911           S-39A/C         NC809W
912           S-39B           NC50V
913           S-39B           NC51V
914           S-39CS          NC52V
915           S-39B           NC53V
916           S-39B           NC54V
917           S-39B           NC55V
918           S-39C           NC1933, NC14326
920           S-39B           NC58V




The table at left of S-39 production shows the chronological position of NC809W in the line. Note that it was converted to a C model. in 1957 NC809W crashed in Two Lakes, AK.

The article below from the Spring, 1962 American Aviation Historical Society Journal described its life until then. The article seems to have missed news of the crash, since the last information it cites was from a month before the accident. Pilot Cleveland, being a journalist as well as a pilot, was probably employed by the New York American to pilot N809W.

[S/N] 911      S-39C   NC-809W      1932
One of three S-39's operated by the New York American (now the Journal-American) No. 911 was the only one not destroyed while in their service. (See 915 and 918) The Wasp Jr. S1A powered plane was sold by the American in 1934 to Jacob Rupert, Inc., New York City. Rupert sold it in 1935 to Beech-Air Sales Co., Inc., New York City who operated it until sometime in 1937. 0. J. Whitney of Mew York City (later of Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn) used it from 1937 through 1939. Sold to E. W. Wiggins, Edgewood, Rhode Island in 1939. A letter from Jack R. Hughes, chief pilot for Johnson Flying Service, indicates that NC-809W was purchased by Johnson Flying Service, Missoula, Montana sometime in 1939 for $5500. The purpose was to use the S-39 in fire-fighting. How­ever the performance was not an good as expected and it was sold to Vernon Bookwalter, Hockford Bay, Idaho, sometime after 1947 for $6000. Bookwalter used it on Coeur d'Alene Lake and eventually took the plane with him to Alaska where he is currently with the FAA at Anchorage. One of Johnson's mechanics reported in 1954 that he saw the plane at the Spenard-Hood Seaplane Base on the outskirts of Anchorage with the left wing panel removed. Charles Scheetz further reported that it carried a sign, "Do not rob anything off this ship, it is going to be fixed."

A newspaper photo and caption from the Anchorage Daily Times, July 11, 1957, sent by Bill Fike, states, "One of the grand old planes of the air age, OLD GRANDAD by name, is being rebuilt by a local couple to serve the hunting lodge at Two Lakes which they are in the process of building. Vic and Monda Lenhart bought the 1932 model Sikorsky in 1953 and have flown it around the territory. They are using parts from a second Sikorsky they own, a plane used by the famous explorers, Osa and Martin Johnson, in their travels in Africa."

No. 911 now remains as one of two existing S-39 aircraft. (Author's note: The caption mentions a "second Sikorsky". This leads to speculation that there is still an S-38 existing. Johnson's S-38, No. 414-20 was reportedly destroyed but this was never confirmed.




Coincidentally, prior to the crash, the wing center section was replaced and stored in Anchorage, AK. In a separate story, that center section of 809W was used to restore another S-39, NC50V (not a Register airplane). The PDF at the link (412kB) tells the story of 50V and its restoration, which incorporated the wing center section of NC809W. The relevant text from that article is below.

“NC809W, S/N 911, had crashed into the water of Two Lakes, Alaska, back in 1957 (where it remains to this day, and it’s owned by Greg Herrick), but the wing center section had been replaced prior to the crash. That center section was located in Anchorage and became the basis for the restoration’s center section. Finding that center section proved to be critical, as it helped allow Dick to convert his S-39B to a C model, with a 400-hp Wasp Junior installed, a higher gross weight, and all 95 gallons of fuel in four tanks mounted in the center section. (The B model had two 14-gallon fuel tanks in the forward portion of the hull, with two wing tanks mounted in the center section.) 809W had been the very first B model converted to a C model by the Sikorsky factory.”










Below is another descrilption of the life of NC809W from Paul Matt's Historical Aviation Album, Vol 14, page 226. The first few sentences are identical to the boxed text just above, but additional information is forthcoming lower in the statement.


Historic Aviation Album, Vol. 14, Page 226 (Source: Woodling)


NC809W is still registered today to a business in Jackson, WY. Although its airworthiness expired August 29, 1957 when it crashed, and it is still at the bottom of Two Lakes, it is still registered there in situ until July 31, 2019. As of 2001, attempts were being made to raise it, below, although from 200' of water this would be a costly undertaking.

Search Is On For Sunken Sikorsky

Article from - Pacific Flyer January 2001 - Page B27

Minnesota-based vintage aircraft collector, Greg Herrick, is after his most elusive prey yet:  a 1930 Sikorsky S-39C amphibian that's sitting on the bottom of a lake in Alaska.

Herrick, whose collection includes such rarities as a 1937 Cunningham-Hall PT 6F, first began his search for a Sikorsky S-39 years ago. It began like all his other hunts, with a search for rare types profiled in the late Joe Juptner's nine-volume U.S. Civil Aircraft series.

Then he combs the FAA register to see how many of a certain type are still around and who owns them. In 1996, he found three Sikorsky S-39s: one in a museum, one not salvageable and one whose owner didn't call Herrick back for six months.

"When he finally did call," reported Herrick, "he told me I could have it but that I'd have to bring it up from the bottom of a lake." The plane had sunk in Two Lakes, Alaska., 150 miles west of Anchorage, in 1958 and hadn't been touched since.

Luckily, Herrick had the re­sources to continue the search despite the daunting odds. The tenacious Herrick tracked down the S-39's pilot, Victor Lenhart [not a Register pilot], by calling every Victor Lenhart listed in a nationwide phonebook on the internet. On the 38th try, he found the 78-year-old Lenhart alive and well in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. 

Lenhart was reluctant to return to the crash site because of unhappy memories. Although no one was killed in the mach Lenhart and his wife lost most of their possessions and their dream of starting a hunting lodge at Two Lakes. But at Herrick's urging, he flew to Alaska and to point out where he thought the plane had sunk.   Alas, Herrick's sonar was unable to find the plane.

It was a park surveyor's map that gave the distance of the wreck from different points on shore that finally led to the discovery of the S-39-C in 200 feet of water. That was the good news.  The bad news is that the first attempt to lift it ended in failure last August. Lines hooked to the plane snapped as boats tried pulling it to the surface. Forced to regroup, Herrick has decided to return to Two Lakes this spring with a decompression chamber. This will let scuba divers to spend more time clearing debris from the plane before they try again to lift it.

Plan B is expected to cost $110,000 on top of the $145,000 already spent on the salvage effort so far. "What the hell," said Herrick. "You only live once."



THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/14/17 REVISED: 07/19/17

The Register

I'm looking for information and photographs of this airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.


Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.


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