Las Vegas, NV

In 1959, Two Pilots Flew for 65 Days Straight Without Landing

Andrei Tapalaga
Cessna 172 refueling in flightPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

It all began with the Hacienda Hotel, which had recently opened in 1958. Las Vegas was only in its early stages at the time. As a result, in order to attract travelers from other states and even nations, the hotel/casino required some publicity. The hotel owner's plan was to promote his business through a gimmick.

The goal was to fly a plane named after the hotel and attempt to beat the world record for flight endurance at the time, which stood at 47 days of flying without landing. This is where World War II veteran Robert Bob Timm comes in.

Timm received $100,000 to organize the event, which also served as a fundraiser for cancer research. This also makes it one of the earliest large cancer research fundraisers in history, so there's a lot to this story.

The most crucial aspect of the endeavor was selecting the appropriate plane for the job. Aircraft technology grew quickly in 1958, yet a more technologically advanced plane did not necessarily guarantee a better plane for this specific mission.

Timm chose a Cessna 172, a relatively new plane at the time.

There had been a lot of aerial refueling tests up until this point, but there was no way to convert a Cessna 172 to be refueled in midair.

As a result, they set up an auxiliary tank that could be filled from a ground vehicle. When they needed to refuel, they would come down and fly very low and just beyond stall speed until the truck arrived and winched up a hose before transferring the fuel into the airplane with a pump.

It was a dramatic display of airmanship because they sometimes had to perform it at night, which required some precision flying.

It took four tries to get it properly the first time. The plane had broken down during the last three attempts. The longest attempt of the three was 17 days. Surprisingly, the 1949 mark was beaten during the third attempt by a different team attempting to break the same record, with 50 and a few hours.

Timm did not give up despite the bad news. Timm realized he required a co-pilot with the same degree of experience as him while he optimized the plane for a grand tour. Someone who can repair the plane while it is in flight if something goes wrong. John Cook, a seasoned aircraft mechanic, was picked as the new co-pilot.

On December 4, 1958, they took off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas for the fourth try.
The two pilots being recorded mid-flight by local news Las VegasPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

The flight started off smoothly, and the two spent Christmas Day in the air. When they refueled at the California-Arizona border, they would also pick up supplies and food, in the form of dishes from the Hacienda's restaurants mashed up to fit into Thermos flasks, making it easier to send them up to the plane.

Many different parts broke on the plane throughout the 65 days in the air, but what is essential is that the engine continued running, and that was all they needed, especially after day 50.

Despite breaking the world record set in 1958, they wanted to ensure that the record was not heated.
Robert Timm at the end of the flightPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

After flying nonstop for over two months and 150,000 miles, they landed at McCarran International Airport on February 7, 1959. The record has been set at 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds. This record still stands, and no one has attempted to break it.

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