1965: The First Transcontinental, Non-Stop Helicopter Flight Takes Place in the US

March 6, 1965

Commander James R. Williford and his crew took off from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet on a record-setting non-stop helicopter flight across the country. The Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter was named Dawdling Dromedary, and Williford, Lieutenant David A. Beil, and Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Paul J. Bert began the journey with 1,690 gallons (6,397 liters) of fuel on board.

A while after takeoff, the crew flew through the Guadalupe Pass between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, and proceeded to shut down one of the SH-3A’s two turboshaft engines to reduce fuel consumption. They continued to fly on just one engine for 9.5 hours, only restarting the second engine as they approached the end of their flight over Jacksonville, Florida.

Commander Williford was quoted in Naval Aviation News as saying, “Since weight counted, the heater had been removed. We, therefore, wore rubber boots, long underwear, etc., but still were thoroughly chilled upon arrival. The temperature at 15,000 feet [4,572 meters] was -11° [-23.9 °C.] that night.

“The C-131 chase aircraft crew was amazed at our accuracy of navigation with a lone omni. Actually, it was such a clear day it was the old type of piloting, that is, ‘just north of that reservoir’ or ‘one mile south of that city,’ etc. We flew through mountain passes until Guadalupe, thence great circle route to Mayport.

“For the trip, +10 knots [18.5 kilometers per hour] tailwind average was needed, and it appeared we weren’t going to make it for the first 8–9 hours because we were behind in our time vs. distance plot. But as we climbed higher—climbing being limited by retreating blade stall—we gained stronger and more favorable winds. By the time we reached Valdosta, Georgia, we had about 35 knots [64.8 kilometers per hour] pushing us. That was a nice feature because the Okefenokee Swamp at night is no place for an autorotation with empty fuel tanks.”

The crew touched down on the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt off the coast of Mayport, Florida after 16 hours, 52 minutes of flight. They had traveled  2,105.64 miles (3,388.70 kilometers).

[Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.]

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