Cities From the Sky
Sherman Fairchild, the photographer who transformed aviation
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, January 12, 2009
The FC-2 appealed to both civilian and military users, with 50 of the aircraft being built by the end of 1927.* It was much more than a camera platform: The FC-2 (pictured) was used as an airmail hauler and on Pan American Airways’ first international route. One of Fairchild’s monoplanes, named Stars and Stripes and equipped with skis, accompanied Richard Byrd on his 1928 expedition to Antarctica. The FC-2 could carry four passengers in addition to the pilot, and for passenger comfort boasted a cabin heater. Its revolutionary landing gear (incorporating a shock absorber) would remain the standard for 20 years.
Perhaps the most famous FC-2 was the City of New York, which in 1928 circled the globe in 23 days, a new world’s record. Pilot Charles Collyer and passenger John Henry Mears (who handled the travel arrangements) were joined by a small terrier, Tail Wind, who was foisted upon the men at their departure.
The trio averaged 1,400 miles a day, flying between 10 and 16 hours each day. As they flew over Korea, the FC-2 began losing oil. Collyer later wrote for the Fairchild magazine, “The only thing to do was to climb out and investigate. I put the plane in the control of Mr. Mears, letting him take the ‘stick,’ something he had never done before, but it was a case of necessity and I instructed him what to do. I climbed out of the pilot’s window onto the cowling with a pair of pliers. I pulled the pins and opened the cowling, and could see that the oil was coming from a loose tank cap which one of the service men had failed to replace properly. I repined the engine cowling as best I could, climbed back in and decided to land.”
The three completed the trek safely, and Collyer attributed their success to his “pal and buddy” the City of New York, its Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, and mascot Tail Wind, who “seemed to enjoy the trip, but probably didn’t realize what it was all about.”
*This corrects our earlier version, which indicated a whopping 40,000 FC-2s were produced in the 1920s. We regret the error.