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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Bromley, CB-784000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


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Harold Bromley, Ca. 1932 (Source: NASM)
Harold Bromley, Ca. 1932 (Source: NASM)

Harold Bromley (he dropped his first name) was born November 10, 1898 in Victoria, B.C. He went west to his final horizon on December 20, 1997 at the respectable age of 99. If you measure a life by its coverage in The New York Times, his obituary (Sunday, January 11, 1998) ran 40 column inches, with two photographs. An appreciable life in aviation. At left, from his NASM biographical folder (cited, left sidebar), is Bromley ca. 1932.

He enlisted in the Canadian army as a teen and served three years as a machine gunner in WWI. He joined a Canadian unit of the Royal Air Force, but the war ended by the time he soloed. But the aviation bug had bitten.

He moved to Olympia, WA and ran a flying school during the 1920s. He was also a test pilot for Lockheed in Burbank, CA. There he helped familiarize Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Doolittle and Wiley Post with Lockheed's Vega monoplane.

In some ways, he was not as lucky as Lindy. His chosen feat was to be the first to fly solo nonstop across the Pacific Ocean; he never made it. His first attempt, on July 28, 1929, at Tacoma, WA, ended when gasoline splashed out of the tanks during the takeoff roll and blinded Bromley. His specially designed, orange, low-winged Lockheed (named the "City of Tacoma") careened off the runway and was destroyed. Bromley walked away, saddened but uninjured.

In September 1929, a second Lockheed being tested for his trans-Pacific flight crashed into a Burbank street when a specially designed tail assembly loosened. The test pilot was seriously injured. Similarly, in May 1930, a Lockheed being readied and tested for his flight, crashed in the Mojave Desert. The check pilot, H.W. Catlin (NOT Register signer Ben Catlin), died of burns. Image, below right, of Bromley with one of his Lockheeds, probably the first.

Bromley & "City of Tacoma"

His next attempt was on August 30, 1930. He decided to try the crossing from west to east. So, with a specially built, red Emsco high-wing monoplane (also named the "City of Tacoma"), he boarded a ship to Tokyo. Another change in his plan was to fly with a navigator. Who else but the great Harold Gatty.

On August 30th Bromley and Gatty attempted a takeoff from a naval runway near Tokyo, but they were too heavy. Bromley dumped fuel in order to shed weight and clear trees. They had to return, because now they did not have enough fuel to make Tacoma.

Their final attempt was made on September 14, 1930. Following the Great Circle Route calculated by Gatty, they took off and flew for 1,200 miles out over the Pacific. Their exhaust system failed and the cabin filled with fumes. They returned to Japan, landing 35 miles north of their starting point. Fishermen found them semiconscious from fumes, but otherwise unharmed.

The Pacific was finally crossed for the first time in October 1931 by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon in a Bellanca. They won a $25,000 prize from the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

But Bromley didn't give up. There was still a $29,500 prize offered by the City of Seattle for a nonstop flight between Seattle and Tokyo. Bromley tested another Vega for the flight, then flew it north to Washington on May 31 1932. But, logistically, he was too late to make the June 1st deadline. He finally gave up on his dream to fly the Pacific. What did he do?

He became an American citizen after his last trans-Pacific attempt. Then, from the March 25, 1931 edition of the Seattle Daily Times, we learn that he joined a developing airline, below.

OKLA CITY, Wednesday, March 25 - (AP) Harold Bromley, who attempted with Harold Gatty to fly from Tokyo to Tacoma last summer, yesterday signed up as a pilot for the Braniff Airways, Inc. on its Chicago route.  Gatty has joined with Wiley Post, aviator of this city of a proposed flight around the world, with F.C. Hall, oil man, as backer.

Later, he flew for Mexican mining companies, spent 20 years as a Federal aviation inspector, and grew grapes and dates and sold real estate in California. He died in a nursing facility near his home in Palm Desert, CA.



Harold Bromley landed five times at Tucson. He landed four times flying Lockheed Vega aircraft; once flying a Fleet. His landings took place between August 23,1929 and May 3, 1932.

His first landing in August 1929 occurred about a month after his failed attempt to fly across the Pacific in the original "City of Tacoma". He carried four unidentified passengers that evening in Lockheed Vega NC2874. They were eastbound from Los Angeles to El Paso, TX.

His second landing on August 29, 1929 was in Lockheed Vega NC7952. He carried four unidentified passengers that afternoon, including an infant. They were westbound from El Paso, TX to Burbank, CA. The airplane, at the time, was being used as a demonstrator for Lockheed.

Bromley's flight in NC7952 is notable, in that this is the red airplane presently on display at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC. It is the airplane Amelia Earhart later purchased and flew solo on the first trans-Atlantic flight completed by a woman (May 20-21, 1932). She also flew it in the first nonstop trans-continental flight by a woman (Los Angeles to Newark, NJ in August 1932).

His third landing in a Lockheed was in Vega NC504K on September 10, 1929. He was solo this day, eastbound from Los Angeles to El Paso, TX.

His fourth landing in a Mexican-registered Vega was in X-ABH-18 on January 29, 1930. Based in Torreon, Mexico, he was westbound from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles, CA. It was about this time he worked as a pilot for Theodore T. Hull, President of Corporacion Aeronautica de Transportes S.A. (CAT).

His fifth visit was on May 3, 1932 flying Fleet Husky 1 NC8610. According to the Register he was flying solo eastbound from Los Angeles, CA to El Paso, TX.



Three "City of Tacoma" Lockheeds, "Before"

Infrastructure is the structure and processes needed to enable an enterprise to work. Bromley had a broad infrastructure in place to support his flights.

Infrastructure is an element often relegated to deep background in accounts of legendary early flights. Sometimes the preparation works; sometimes it doesn't. For example, photo, left, shows the three "City of Tacoma" Lockheeds.

Obviously, the design and manufacture of record attempting aircraft, testing them, assembling fuel and oil supplies, weather reporting and navigation planning are all important parts of the infrastructure for such flights.

But, there is more. In the case of the Bromley/Gatty attempt of September 1930, The New York Times of September 14, 1930 reports seven ships were distributed along the Great Circle Route calculated by Gatty, as well as a short-wave communications center on the ground in Seattle, and a "compact" radio set in the airplane.

The Times enumerates, "The...liner Mishima Maru, which sailed form Yokohama for Seattle Sept. 6, would be the first ship sighted by Lieut. Bromley....

"The steamship "Arthur J. Baldwin"...was between 700 and 800 miles out from Seattle bound for [Seattle] from Nome and was instructed to keep a lookout for the fliers. Other ships in the path of the airplane were the Blue Funnel liner
Protesilaus", the N.Y.K. liner Yokohama Maru, the Canadian pacific liner Empress of Canada, and the American Mail liner Pesident McKinley."

The American Mail liner was instructed to give weather reports if the aviators requested them. Of eleven ships reporting weather conditions in the Pacific that day, all indicated that the weather was favorable, with westerly winds that would have pushed the fliers along toward Seattle.

Three "City of Tacoma" Lockheeds, "After"

Photo, right, shows the three "City of Tacoma" Lockheeds after their unsuccessful lives. At top is the one that sprayed fuel on Bromley. The middle image is the one that crashed on a Burbank street. The bottom one is the airplane that crashed and burned in the Mojave Desert, killing pilot H.W. Catlin.

Further, there was the onboard radio set. Primitive by 21st century standards, the same NY Times describes, "The radio set with which the plane is equipped weighs seventy-five pounds complete. The set was built especially for the flight by Willard F. Hellman of Los Angeles, who flew with Lieutenant Bromley from Los Angeles to Tacoma to test the equipment....

"While the plane is in flight the set can send messages for 3,000 miles and receive for 200 miles. If the plane should come down, either on land or water, a two-way conversation could be held within a 3,000 mile radius.

"The set operates on 7.5 watts of power, with one transmitting and three receiving tubes. The sending wave length is 34.2 meters and the receiving 26 to 48 meters. The call letters of Bromley's plane are KWIKB.

"In case of a forced landing on the water a collapsible antenna is provided to be sete [sic] up on poles erected on the fuselage. While in flight a spool antenna, trailing from the plane with a three-pound weight at the end, will be used.

"Both Lieutenant Bromley and his navigator, Harold Gatty, are competent wireless operators."

Regardless of their competence, they would have had a world of challenge setting up and using a, probably wet, radio set and setting up a collapsible antenna on a bobbing, barely floating fuselage, in cold North Pacific waters. We're glad they made it back to Japan to fly another day. Gatty made his 15 minutes of fame a couple of years later flying and navigating around the world with Wiley Post.


Dossier 2.1.54

UPLOADED: 03/10/06 REVISED: 05/18/07, 12/15/11, 07/09/12, 11/28/13

The Register
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