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Brothers bring historic flight to life

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Posted: Monday, May 21, 2012 9:15 am

MOSES LAKE - Most people know that Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly solo, nonstop, across the Atlantic Ocean. Most people don't know who the first person to fly nonstop across the Pacific Ocean was.

That's a problem Edward and Robert Heikell intend to solve.

The Heikell brothers have penned a historical novel, "One Chance for Glory," to be released later this month. The book chronicles the historical trip across the Pacific Ocean made by pilot Clyde Pangborn and his co-pilot, Hugh Herndon Jr.

The brothers consumed every bit of information on Pangborn they could get their hands on, including scouring his papers, which are stored at Washington State University.

Edward, who lives in Everett, is a retired Boeing aeronautical engineer and a commercial pilot. Robert, who lives in Moses Lake, is a former public school teacher and principal. He has his private and commercial pilot licenses, has worked for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and has been involved with Big Bend Community College's flight school.

Robert first became interested in Pangborn's story when he heard a presentation on it by the late veteran aviator Arnie Clark.

When he learned that the Wenatchee chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) planned to build a full-size replica of Pangborn's plane, the Miss Veedol, he was hooked, he says.

"Here's this fantastic accomplishment that nobody knows about," he says. "It really struck me as something that was in the first place very interesting, exciting, and in the second place kind of sad that ... people didn't know about it."

He began telling everyone he knew about the story and soon his brother Edward became just as captivated. Robert helped raise attention to the EAA's effort to build a replica of the Miss Veedol by building an award-winning, quarter-size, radio-controlled model ?of Pangborn's plane.

It was Edward's idea to put the story to paper.

"One day he said, 'You know, there needs to be a book about that,'" says Robert. "'That's a story that needs to be told.'"

Pangborn was born in Bridgeport, Wash., before moving to Idaho. A veteran of the U.S. Air Service in World War I,  he became a barnstormer with the Gates Flying Circus after the war, putting on shows featuring aeronautical acrobatics.

After the government began cracking down on barnstorming, pilots needed new ways to make a name for themselves, says Robert.

"In that time in our history, aviation was all about setting records," he says. "Everybody was going to set a record. Fly the highest, fly the furthest, fly the fastest, whatever."

Pangborn decided to attempt to circumnavigate the globe, beating a record set by the Graf Zeppelin airship in 1929. He was joined by Hugh Herndon Jr., whose mother's riches funded the expedition.

While that record proved unattainable, the duo set their sights on another one.

After landing in Tokyo, they learned of an English-language Japanese newspaper offering a $25,000 reward to the first pilot to fly solo non-stop across the Pacific Ocean.

"There had already been six guys that had tried to do this flight, some Americans and some Japanese," says Robert. "Some of them lost their lives ... Now these guys were going to try it."

Pangborn and Herndon landed in East Wenatchee on Oct. 5, 1931, after flying for 41 hours and 15 minutes. They traveled 5,500 miles, more than 1,800 miles farther than Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean. A memorial to the flight exists near the landing site and a piece of the plane's original propeller is owned by a Wenatchee museum.

The Heikells speculate that the reason Pangborn's feat is not as well known as those of Lindbergh and other pilots is because of a year-long gag order placed on Pangborn by the Herndons.

"It's every bit as important as Lindbergh's story or Amelia Earhart's story," says Robert. "From the day they started that trip, until the day they finished it, they had very, very serious challenges they had to overcome ... That trip was just one challenge after another, any one of which could have gotten them killed, but Pangborn was such an accomplished pilot and a cool head that he was able to work them through each of those things until he came out the other side ... and wound up making that huge, big flight."

To buy "One Chance for Glory" when it is released, visit www.onechanceforglory.com.

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