The Accidental Record Setter

How a moonlighting ferry pilot landed in the history books, and other trans-Pacific tales.

Richard Wiese revisits mementos of his flying career. In 1959 he set a major distance record, but not many noticed. (Brad Trent)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

Thirty minutes later, he glimpsed some lights through a break in the clouds. Eventually, Wake was only 50 miles away.

The rest of his journey was comparatively easy. Mack stopped at Midway, got his instruments repaired, flew on to Hawaii, and a week later, set out for San Francisco, where he was greeted by a crowd of reporters, photographers, and local officials. The stories referred to his flight from Hawaii, or the round-the-world mission, but most missed the fact that for the first time, the entire Pacific had been flown alone.

Mack made it back to Springfield on April 19, 1952, more than five months after he left. He returned to his life in Washington, meeting Romona on a blind date at a party. They married in 1953.

Melanie and Romona say he put the flight behind him. “Dad loved people,” Melanie remembers. “But he had a mission with the flight, and when it was over, he moved on. He always said that—‘Never look back.’ ” The Bonanza was eventually returned to the Smithsonian; today, it is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Melanie asked her mother if she would have allowed her dad to make the flight after they’d met. Replied Romona: “No way.”

To Prove It Could Be Done
On July 31, 1958, Pat Boling left the ground in Manila with something to prove—to the world, and to himself. One night nine years earlier, the United Air Lines pilot had had an epiphany. He was waiting for a table at a Honolulu restaurant when he glimpsed Bill Odom lift off on the start of his Hawaii-to-Teterboro record flight. He described his feelings in a letter to his young son Kevin. “In that moment I realized I’d never tested my own courage and capacities,” he wrote, quoting the letter in an article in Reader’s Digest. “More and more I was looking toward a pension, unstimulated by the thoughts of new horizons that had stirred my young manhood.” The idea for a record flight of his own was born.

Unlike Truman, Evans, and Mack, Boling’s goal was to conquer the Pacific, solo and nonstop—and fly farther than Odom had. He would fly from Manila to San Francisco nonstop. He worked with Beechcraft directly, which provided a Bonanza with extra tanks and equipment.

Boling planned his flight meticulously. The fuel was cooled before being loaded into its tanks to ensure the maximum amount of fuel was onboard. He timed the flight to take advantage of a seasonal high-pressure area to give him a constant tailwind. He wore a bright orange flightsuit in case he had to ditch. He left Manila on July 31, 1958. As he headed out over the Philippine Sea, he was “more elated than I had ever felt in my life.”

By the end of the first day, he’d made it over Japan without incident. He continued flying through the night, and confirmed that he was on course the next day over Cold Bay, Alaska. But as he flew toward the Alaskan mainland and into his second night, the weather deteriorated. When he shone a light out onto his wings, he found them covered with ice. He began to descend, and things got worse fast. The engine began to misfire.

Boling headed toward the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago north of British Columbia, which had an airfield. He went over his checklist to ditch and prayed. Gradually the ice began to melt, and the engine kept running. “As the crisis passed, my anxiety was replaced with a strange mixture of weariness and joy,” he wrote.

As the next day dawned, he realized he could reach Seattle, but still hoped for San Francisco. After a fuel leak developed, he landed safely in Pendleton, Oregon, 45 hours, 43 minutes, and almost 7,000 miles from Manila. He’d flown the Pacific nonstop and solo, and he’d broken Odom’s record. (Also in July, ferry pilot Max Conrad flew a Piper Apache from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to Taipei, Taiwan, via San Francisco, Canada, Alaska, and Japan, but the flight received little attention.)

Though Boling returned to his airline job, he was never in a rut again.

He Didn’t Want Anyone to Know
Richard Wiese didn’t seek out a Pacific flight—it came to him. A Pan Am navigator and first officer in 1959, he heard rumors of furloughs and layoffs at his airline, so he began ferrying airplanes on the side. “I had three children already and number four was on the way,” he recalls, “and I figured I had to make money somehow, and I wanted to keep flying.”

He started working for a ferrying service, flying DC-3s and A-26s to Africa. Then, with a couple of Pan Am friends, he set up his own business, the World Wide Air Ferry Service. One day he received a query from the Air News Aircraft and Radio Service of San Antonio: How much would it cost to fly a Cessna 310B from San Antonio to Sydney, Australia? But it wasn’t Richard Wiese who received the letter. It was Richard M. Merrick.

If you’ve never heard of Merrick, it’s because he never existed. Wiese used an alias for his ferrying gigs, because it was against Pan Am rules to fly such freelance jobs. Richard Merrick helped keep things quiet. Once his ferrying fee ($2,750) was agreed to, Wiese made his way to San Antonio.

About Paul Glenshaw

Paul Glenshaw is a frequent Air & Space contributor who writes from Silver Spring, Maryland. He created education programs for the Wright Experience and Discovery of Flight foundation, and is the co-writer and co-director of the documentary The Lafayette Escadrille.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus