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The “Dallas Spirit”

26 Nov

The Dallas Spirit was the name of an aircraft flown by Capt. William P. Erwin in the 1927 Dole Air Race, also known as the Dole Air Derby, and entered in a second competition, the Easterwood Race, intended to run from Dallas to California to Hawaii and finally to Hong Kong. Typical of construction at the time of transition away from biplanes, it was a monoplane (single wing) characterized by a high wing and conventional landing gear. It was a “tail dragger” which meant that when it came to rest, it sat on the two forward wheels under the wing and a tail wheel. The design somewhat resembled Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. The Dallas Spirit’s wingspan was 48 ft., and the 225 hp. air cooled Wright radial engine could allow it to achieve a top speed of 126 mph. and cruise at about 105 mph. Its wings were painted silver and its body was painted green.

Swallow-Monoplane-NX914-Dallas-Spirit
(Image credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The aircraft was manufactured by the young Swallow Airplane Company, founded in 1920 and situated in Wichita, Kansas. Erwin had arranged for the aircraft to be built on credit. If he were to win the race, the Swallow company would recoup its costs out of part of the prize money. In addition to Swallow’s backing, according to an excellent 1959 article (1) by Ted Dealey, other sponsors included J. Perry Burrus of Burrus Mills, Karl Hoblitzelle of Interstate Theaters, E. Gordon Perry of Perry Motor Company, C. R. Miller of Texas Textile Mills, Phil T. Prather of Prather Cadillac Company, Julius Schepps of Schepps Bakeries, Otto Herold of Oriental Laundry, Fred F. Florence of Republic Bank of Dallas, W. H. L. McCourtie of Trinity Portland Cement Company, R. A. Crawford of Lone Star Gas Company, John W. Carpenter of Texas Power and Light Company, C. W. Hobson of Love Field Properties, E. R. Brown of Magnolia Petroleum Company, Walter Prehn of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and George B. Dealey of the Dallas News and Dallas Journal.

Along the way, the Dallas Spirit suffered two mechanical failures. The first occurred in Texas and required repairs to the fuel system. Erwin returned to Dallas and restarted his trip to California. The second occurred after the aircraft left Oakland in the race and was a massive tear in the fabric believed to have developed from an access hatch that had been cut into the surface under the navigator station. The aircraft returned to Oakland where the damage was repaired. By the time the latter repair was completed, the race had been won by Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000, and second place had been won by Aloha, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane. Two other airplanes were thought to have crashed at sea and of the remaining three aircraft, two had crashed on takeoff at the start and one developed engine trouble and returned to Oakland. The Erwin/Eichwaldt crew were encouraged to remain in Oakland and abandon the effort, but on August 19 they elected to go on. Equipped with a borrowed radio, they were going to attempt to reach Hawaii and then continue on to Hong Kong, if at all possible. A large reward had also been offered for the two lost aircraft, which also could have been a financial motivation for Erwin, but he was quoted as saying that if the situation had been reversed, the other flyers would have searched for him. Two radio broadcasts were made indicating flight difficulties. The first told of the aircraft having recovered from a spin but that it was continuing on. The second was an SOS, reporting yet another spin. The latter broadcast cut off abruptly when the aircraft was thought to have crashed into the Pacific, at that point possibly 650 miles from Oakland.

The Dole competition awarded first place and second place prizes of $25,000 and $10,000, respectively. The Easterwood prize (Dallas to Hong Kong) was never claimed. The loss of the Dallas Spirit was economically severe enough to cause the Swallow Aircraft Company to go into receivership and the company was sold.

Erwin’s widow was given $5,000 by W. E. Easterwood, Jr., the organizer of the Easterwood Race, out of what would have been the prize money.

A scale model replica of the “Dallas Spirit” was built and is on display at Dallas’ Frontiers of Flight Museum. Also, there is an urban legend(2) in which the missing aircraft was said to have landed at a Hebron, Texas airstrip in 1966, thirty-nine years after it disappeared in the Pacific Ocean.


For further reading about the Dole Air Derby, please see https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/oakland-field/


(1) Dealey, Ted (July 1959). “‘The Dallas Spirit’: The Last Fool Flight”. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

(2) https://carrolltonconnection.com/urban-legends-the-last-fool-flight-of-the-dallas-spirit-lands-in-hebron-texas/

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Posted by on November 26, 2020 in aviation

 

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