LUCK IS AS LUCK DOES
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
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
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
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.
BROMLEY AT THE DAVIS-MONTHAN AIRFIELD
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,
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
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.
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.
A WORD OR TWO ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE
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....
"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
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.
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
"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.
UPLOADED: 03/10/06 REVISED: 05/18/07, 12/15/11, 07/09/12, 11/28/13