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Pangborn, Clyde

Pangborn, Clyde Edward

Dare Devil
Enshrined 1995 1894-1958

In 1919 Pangborn was an instructor at Ellington Field in Texas when the base commander offered him and his friend Lt. Ralph Reid their own plane while at the field. All they had to do was patch and repair the old Jenny. Since straightaway flying is dull, the two thought up tricks to perform, such as diving on barnyards to watch horses jump over fences and cows kick over milk pails. They tried to take the knob from the community flagpole and the hands from the town hall clock. To keep from being caught, Pangborn and Reid used washable paint to disguise the plane’s numbers, changing them from 314 to 841, 341 or 344.

    In 1917 Pangborn volunteered for the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps and had an outstanding record during World War I.
    After the war, he and Ivan Gates formed the famous Gates Flying Circus.
    Pangborn was known as “Upside-down” because of slowly rolling airplanes onto their backs and gliding upside-down.
    During the Depression, he and Hugh Herdon, Jr. set out to fly from Japan to the U.S. Despite an arrest in Japan, mishaps, and freezing temperatures, the two landed safely in Wenatchee, Washington.
    He and Herdon received the Aviation League’s Harmon Trophy in 1931 for this venture.
    During World War II, he helped establish the Ferry Command of the Royal Air Force. He also flew bombers to Hawaii and Australia.



Clyde Edward “Upside Down” Pangborn was born in Bridgeport, Washington, on October 28th, 1894, and his family moved to Idaho in 1896. After finishing high school, Pangborn attended the University of Idaho for two and a half years, where he studied civil engineering. In 1917, Pangborn answered a call for volunteers and enlisted in the Aviation Section of the United States Army Signal Corps as a cadet and learned to fly. His performance was excellent and he eventually received a reserve commission as a second lieutenant and pilot in the Army Air Service in late 1918. After working temporarily as a flight instructor on Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, aircraft at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, he was demobilized in March of 1919.

Pangborn, still interested in an aviation career, decided to pursue professional barnstorming – he made his living doing exhibition flying and aerial acrobatics at fairs, dedications, and other public events throughout the West Coast region. He was known as “Upside-Down Pangborn” because of his penchant for slow-rolling planes onto their backs and gliding upside-down. In 1921, Pangborn and partner Ivan R. Gates formed the famous Gates Flying Circus, which performed both throughout the country as well as internationally. The show was very popular and successful. Over the course of six years, between 1922 and 1928, Pangborn flew approximately 125,000 miles without personal injury; he also held the world record for changing planes in mid-air. During this period Pangborn had the good fortune to meet pilot Hugh Herndon, Jr., who would later accompany Pangborn on their famous transpacific flight.

The heyday of barnstorming came to an end with the onset of the Great Depression, and the race to perform record flights swept the globe. Pangborn became determined to set one of those records. He and Hugh Herndon, Jr. first attempted to beat the around-the-world record set in 1931 by Wiley Post and Harold Gafty, but they were forced to abandon the endeavor in Russia. After this failure, the pair decided to fly from Japan to the United States, crossing the Pacific Ocean. However, the two pilots ran into some difficulty on their way to Tokyo, where they were to begin their mission. Japanese authorities arrested them and charged them with flying over forbidden territory and taking illegal pictures of Japanese military fortifications. The Japanese subsequently tried them as spies and fined the pair approximately $1,000 each. Despite this fiasco, Pangborn and Herndon, Jr. persuaded Japanese officials to grant them a permit to continue with their intended flight.

Pangborn and Herndon finally took off from Samishiro Beach on October 4th, 1931, in their attempt to win a $25,000 reward from the Japanese for a nonstop transpacific flight. They embarked in a reliable Bellanca monoplane called the Miss Veedol, with Pangborn acting as chief pilot and navigator and Herndon as relief pilot and assistant navigator. During the flight, Pangborn was forced to perform a mind-boggling act of bravery and daring. When he dropped the landing gear of the Bellanca, two landing gear struts did not come loose. Using the experience he had gained during his barnstorming days, Pangborn had to walk out onto the wing strut of the Bellanca and free the two landing gear struts that had not disengaged. He did this, barefoot, in spite of hundred-mile-an-hour winds and the cold ocean below. It was truly an amazing feat of courage.

Despite the fact that they had taken little to no safety precautions, the two men landed safely in Wenatchee, Washington, numb in their hands and feet but overall in good health and spirits. Their landing was quite a spectacle; not only did they miss their intended destination of Seattle, they also landed the plane without wheels! They had flown approximately 4,500 nonstop miles in 41 hours and 13 minutes, and they received the Japanese award money. Pangborn also received the Harmon Aviation Trophy for his achievement. For this monumental feat, he has since received the honor of monuments dedicated to him both at Samishiro Beach and at the airfield in Wenatchee, now called Pangborn Field. Pangborn’s accomplishment not only set an aviation record, but also forged an important Japanese-American cultural connection.

Clyde Pangborn followed up the transpacific flight with participation in the MacRobertson International Air Race in 1934, in which he flew with Colonel Roscoe Turner from London to Melbourne, Australia in a Boeing transport monoplane (the 247D). Pangborn and Turner came in second after a series of mishaps and delays, but their close finish was nonetheless a significant achievement.

During the years before the Second World War, Pangborn worked for the Burnelli Company, where he demonstrated airplanes and promoted European interests in the company. He also became chief test pilot for the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation. Upon the outbreak of World War II, however, Pangborn dutifully offered his services and dedication to the Allied war effort, helping to establish the Ferry Command of the Royal Air Force. As a Senior Captain, he participated in more than 175 ocean deliveries of military aircraft. During this time, Pangborn flew aluminum and other materials for British planes across the Atlantic, ferried American bombers to Hawaii and Australia for transfer to British pilots, and flew British Lancasters to North America for demonstrations in both Canada and the United States.

Besides his significant contributions during World War II, Pangborn was also the recipient of numerous awards and honors. These include the Harmon Trophy; the King’s Medal, which he received in England; and the White Medal of Merit, which he received in Japan. Shortly before his death, he was also selected to receive the Admiral William A. Moffett Maritime Aviation Trophy. Clyde Pangborn died in New York City at the age of 63, on March 29th, 1958, and was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

For more information on Clyde Pangborn, you may want to visit the following websites:

Centennial of Flight
Washington State University Pangborn Papers
Century of Flight