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ome feats are quite amazing, but nothing compares to the 50-year-old world record of the longest flight in history, which comes to 65 days. What is even more interesting is the story behind how this record was set, as well as the surprise of the unexpected results.

Hacienda Hotel Las Vegas

It all actually started with Hacienda Hotel back in 1958 when the hotel recently opened. At the time, Las Vegas was still up and coming. Therefore the hotel/casino needed some publicity in order to attract tourists from other states and even countries. The idea of the hotel owner was to promote its venture through a stunt.

The idea was to fly a plane bearing the name of the hotel and try to attempt to break the world record for flight endurance at the time, which was set back in 1949 and stood at 47 days of flying without landing. This is where former World War II pilot Robert Timm came into play. Timm was given $100,000 to set up the event, which was also a fundraiser for cancer research. This also made it one of the first major fundraisers for cancer research in history, so there is quite a lot tied up to this story.

Cessna 172

The most important part of the project was choosing the right plane for the job. 1958 was a period where aircraft technology was quick to advance, but a more technologically advanced plane did not necessarily mean a better plane for this specific task.

An aircraft perfect for breaking the world record had to be very easy to flight, have a low consumption of fuel to cut the risk taken every time they had to refuel mid-air, and be very reliable when it came to the mechanical side of things. This is why Timm chose the Cessna 172, a quite new airplane for the time.

The rest of the money was spent modifying the airplane with the right tools for the job. The modifications included a mattress to sleep on, a small steel sink for personal hygiene, the removal of most of the interior fittings to save weight, and a rudimentary autopilot.

How to refuel without landing?

Today, most modern military aircraft have the ability to refuel mid-flight in the air risk free, but back during those times, such technology did not quite exist, and the Cessna 172 was not able to climb to high altitudes. The previous record that was set used a gliding strategy where the plane consumed very little fuel to stay afloat.

There had been a number of tests with aerial refueling up to this time, but there was no method to convert a Cessna 172 to be refueled in midair.

The actually Cessna 172 refueling during it’s 2nd attempt (Source: Public Domain)

As a result, they set up an additional tank that could be filled from a vehicle on the ground. 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 using a pump to transfer the fuel into the airplane.

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

It took four attempts to break the record

Do not think that the record was broken on the first try. It took four attempts to get it right. The issue faced on the three previous attempts was the plane breaking down. The longest out of the three attempts was of 17 days. Interestingly enough, during the third attempt, the 1949 record was broken by a different team trying to break the same record, with 50 and a few hours.

Despite this news, Timm did not give up. As he optimized the plane for a grand tour, Timm knew that he also needed a co-pilot with the same amount of experience as him. Someone able to fix the plane in flight if something went wrong. John Cook, an experienced airplane mechanic, was chosen to be the new co-pilot.

They both set off for the fourth attempt on December 4, 1958, from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. In order to prove to everyone that they would never land, they painted the wheels of the plane white. If they were to land for whatever reason, the paint would wipe off the wheels, thus considering a failed attempt.

The two pilots being recorded mid-flight by local news Las Vegas (Source: Public Domain)

The flight began nicely, and the two spent Christmas Day in the air. When they refueled around the California-Arizona border, they would also acquire supplies and food, in the form of dishes from the Hacienda’s restaurants that had been mashed up to fit into Thermos flasks, making it more practical to send them up to the plane.

Toilet breaks were taken on a folding camp toilet, and the accompanying plastic bags were later scattered across the desert. On the co-pilot side, an extensible platform allowed greater space for shaving and washing.

65 days in air

During the 65 days in the air many different things broke on the plane, but what is important is that the engine kept going and that was all they needed, especially after day 50. Although they beat the world record set in 1958, they wanted to make sure that the world record would not be heated.

Robert Timm at the end of the flight (Source: Public Domain)

They flew for another 15 days before landing at McCarran on February 7, 1959, after flying nonstop for more than two months and 150,000 miles.

Cessna 172 attached to the ceiling in the baggage claim area at McCarren Airport (Source: Public Domain)

Today, the N9172B can be seen attached to the ceiling in the baggage claim area at McCarren Airport. Even to this day, no one has attempted to beat the record.

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