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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Robbins, CR-431400-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.


Adams, B.D. "Two Texans Break a Record". Air Transportation. June 8, 1929.


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Reginald L. Robbins, 1929 (Source: Cooper)
Reginald L. Robbins, 1929

This page is a great example of how threaded the activities became at the old Davis-Monthan Airfield. Reginald L. Robbins signed the Register twice, on Friday, June 21, 1929 at 3:45 PM and on Tuesday, July 2, 1929 at 5:10 PM. He was westbound the first stop; eastbound the second. He was solo both times flying Ryan B-1 Brougham NR1766 (S/N 52). I have little information about this airplane, other than a fine profile image from the Russell T. Gerow Photograph Collection, and the image below from the Charles Cooper Photograph and Document Collection available for view elsewhere on this Web site. Pilot Robbins touched the lives of a few of our airplanes, as well as pilots.

Beginning on May 19 and extending to May 26, 1929, Robbins and co-pilot James H. Kelly flew NR1766, named "Fort Worth", to a men's landplane endurance record of 172 hours 32 minutes 1 second. They performed this feat at Meacham Field, Fort Worth's (TX) municipal field. They were finally forced down by a cracked propeller after 17 fuel contacts which transferred 1,510 gallons. They covered 12,900 miles. Register pilot Jimmie Mattern was his refueling pilot.

Their flight is documented in the Adams article cited in the left sidebar. You may download a copy of that article from the Charles Cooper Photograph and Document Collection. (PDF 5.3 MB). Portrait of Robbins, right, and victory image, below, from that document.

Robbins' and Kelly's endurance record was a big deal at the time. Not only that, it was a harrowing time for the pilots. From the Adams article, you'll learn that lubrication of the engine rocker arms was performed by Kelly climbing out the left hand window of the ship and edging his way along outriggers welded catwalk-like to the fuselage. He used a safety belt to hold himself to the airplane, rather than a parachute in case he became separated. We can only imagine the flailing he would take in the slipstream if he had lost his footing.

Ryan B-1 Brougham NR1766, May 1929 (Source: Cooper)
Ryan B-1 Brougham NR1766, May 1929

Adams says of the belt, "In flipping this belt around one of the rocker arms the early part of the week, the buckle on the end struck the [wooden] propeller, causing it to sustain a gash probably 1 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide." We learn two things from this. First, it was because of this gash that rain water seeped into the wood and caused the crack to proliferate to the point where the flight had to be terminated later in the week. Second, imagine getting close enough aloft that your looped safety belt buckle damages your whirling propeller. Don't try this at home.

Robbins, Kelly and Others, May 26, 1929
Robbins, Kelly and Others, May 26, 1929

Image, above, shows (L-R) Robbins, Kelly, Mrs. Kelly, Lady Mary Heath and Amon L. Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Telegram. We wonder if the young man looking down on this scene, dressed in the swell bowtie, is still alive with this event burned into his memory. He'd be in his 80s at this upload date. The photo appeared in the June 8, 1929 issue of Air Transportation in an article by B.D. Adams.  A victory telegram is available at the Charles Cooper Photograph and Document Collection.

Their 172 hour, 32 minute flight was long enough to better the endurance flight of the Army's "Question Mark" (28-120, a Fokker C-2 Transport) from January 1, 1929. The "Question Mark" remained aloft for 150 hours 40 minutes and 15 seconds, again with numerous air-to-air refuelings. It held the record for a slim five months. Captain Ira Eaker, member of the flight crew on "Question Mark" was on the ground at Ft. Worth to greet Robbins and Kelly (but he is not present in the image above). We will find Lady Mary Heath passing through Tucson herself on May 30th.

Adams went on to cite AC spark plugs as the igniter of choice on the "Fort Worth". He calculated that the plugs sparked a total of 130,435,200 times, "...equivalent to an unbroken flash of light 41 miles long." Given that he probably already had too much time on his hands, he correctly pointed out, for aircraft engines at least, the obvious logical corollary of this flight: "This is a world record for the continuous firing of spark plugs."

Robbins and Kelly were feted on June 1, 1929 at the Texas Hotel (Ft. Worth) Crystal Ballroom. Below, courtesy of site visitor Annie Franklin, is the first page of the program for that day. This handsome program, less the menu, is available as a PDF download (440KB; five pages will open in a new window) at the link.

Commemorative Program, June 1, 1929, Ft. Worth, TX (Source: Franklin)
Commemorative Program, June 1, 1929, Ft. Worth, TX (Source: Franklin)


Robbins owned briefly Travel Air 6000 NC8176, as well as NC(NR)5493. It is difficult to tell from the NASM record what he did with NC8176, as he kept it barely a month in late 1931. But, NR5493, a big Ford trimotor, was used as a refueling tanker during his trans-Pacific record attempt (below). Follow the links to the airplanes, and the links therefrom to get the full story.

Regarding the trans-Pacific flight, on July 8-9, and again on August 2-3, 1931 Robbins attempted to fly from Boeing Field, Seattle, WA to Tokyo, Japan, non-stop, refueled, a distance of 4,800 miles. He carried Harold S. Jones as co-pilot. Their airplane was Lockheed Vega NR7429. Please follow the link to learn the results of that effort. An image of Robbins and Jones during preparations for their trans-Pacific flight appears in this news article at the Charles Cooper Photograph and Document Collection.


Dossier 2.1.142

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/12/08 REVISED: 10/30/08

The Register
I'm looking for photographs of NR1766 to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.


http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on a project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.


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