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Jeepsters and the Sunkist Lady

UPDATE: This article provides more information about this stunt Jeepster and plane. It was published in the March 20, 1949, issue of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

1949-03-20-fort-worth-star-telegram-jeep-jockey-endurance-jeepster-plane1-lores 1949-03-20-fort-worth-star-telegram-jeep-jockey-endurance-jeepster-plane2-lores

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Originally Published Dec 8, 2012:


The Sunkist Lady was an Aeronca 15AC Sedan airplane flown by Dick Riedel and Bill Barris used to set a world-record for endurance flight.  They spent a total of 1008 hours and 2 minutes aboard the airplane, ending their flight in April of 1949. Unfortunately for them, their record was broken six months later.

What makes this relevant for jeep fans was that to keep the plan in the air, the crew used Jeepsters borrowed from local dealers to race down the airport runway so the crew could hand fuel and food to the two pilots.

Thanks to Colin for forwarding the story!

Here is a link to a story and a video about the flight (124 MB): http://www.cityoffullerton.com/depts/airport/the_sunkist_lady.asp

Here is a second article:  http://vintageairphotos.blogspot.com/2012/03/saga-of-sunkist-lady.html. The picture below is from that article.


 

9 Comments on “Jeepsters and the Sunkist Lady

  1. Steve E.

    Incredible find, Colin! The video was made when announcer could announce. The two young pilots had to overcome adversity, such as one was a Protestant, and one was a Catholic. (LOL) Good thing one wasn’t a Muslim. (LOL)

    They refueled three times a day, with the Jeepster at 72 mph. When I hit 65 mph in my Jeepster, I feel like I’m about to take off…..and it’s time to back off.

    Interesting bit of history. I wonder if the plane is parked in a museum somewhere, or did it just turn out to be a big commercial for the MacMillan Oil Company?

    **Steve E.**

  2. Paul

    Aeronca N1074H is no longer registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. The number had been transferred to another aircraft but was cancelled in 2011. It’s possible this aircraft still exists but it’s doubtful.

  3. Steve E.

    Good research, Paul. I wouldn’t have known where to look. I’ve been amazed at this story in history all day. I just went back and read one website more closely, and someone else back in May was wondering where the plane was. I’m just beginning to realize what a feat (publicity stunt?) this was in 1949. I don’t think I could spend 1,008 hours in a Jeepster, let alone a noisy plane for 42 days.

    **Steve E.**

  4. Paul

    To research U.S. aircraft check the FAA registry and type in the N number, in this case N1074H. Years ago I bought a motorcycle I really enjoyed and I spent over 2,000 hours riding it spread out over 14 summers.

  5. Colin

    A friend started this find for me, by sending me one of a plane being refueled in about 1957 by guys in a Ford T-Bird. I had seen a photo of this and then started digging a bit. Really neat stuff, but I have to think the Jeepsters had to be equipped with the new 6 cylinder engines to reach the 72mph. 4 cylinder Jeepsters are hard pressed to do 70mph even with overdrive. Taking the windshields off may have helped, but the parasitic drags with 3 people on board would have created a lower speed in my estimation.

    I’m thinking that the length of the runways they were using had to be fairly long to get the Jeepster up to speed, hand off the fuel, turn around and return down the runway for another attempt at passing food and fuel up to the plane. Bet they had to make a bunch of passes to get that done. According to my research, an Aeronca sedan had a stall speed of about 60-65 mph, so probably 72 was about as slow as they could manage with the load in the plane and still keep airflow over the top of the wings for lift. The Jeepster driver had to be good as well to keep the car right where it had to be to make the exchanges.

  6. Steve E.

    I just realized that I’m also amazed at how clear the photo turned out while moving at top speed. (Or, at minimum speed for the aircraft.) The Whittier Hills can easily bee seen in the background. The photo shows Fullerton Airport in the middle of nowhere. Only sixty-three years after this photo was taken, the airport is now surrounded by a huge megalopolis. Good luck seeing the Whittier Hills with all the buildings blocking your view.

    I agree Colin, ’49 was the first year for an L-head 6-148 and was probably needed. It doesn’t have much more power than an L4, but it would probably accelerate to speed faster, especially a tight, new engine. I’ve never driven a Jeepster with a “six”, but a new L4-134 could do 70 mph on the flat if it had to, with high octane gas, unlike today’s watered down fuel. (unless there was a headwind. lol.)

    Good point, Paul. The safety Nazis would come unglued. After reading more of the story, they had a problem with the FBI thinking they were smuggling something in Florida, with a gun in the ribs and everything. This was quite the ordeal, and a lifelong story for the kids to tell the grandchildren. And we are still talking about it. Now I’m glad they did it, even if it wasn’t just for us to talk about in the 21st century.

    **Steve E.**

  7. Allan J. Knepper

    What a great story…….and yes…..my first thought was……how do you make a Jeepster go that fast !

    It was great to see Aeronca and Willys in the same story. My brother and I went to Missouri two years ago to an estate auction. I hoped to come home with an Empire tractor project and possibly one of several other Willys pulled out of the woods and lined up along the fence. I was the winning ?? bidder on the Empire. Also came home with the aluminum nose off a small aircraft……just thought it was cool with the sculptured nose and two small cast aluminum grilles on each side of the opening for the prop. When I was unloading and showing my other brother…….he said “hey, cool nose from an old Aeronca”!! So now the Aeronca nose hangs on my shop wall overlooking the stalled Empire/Willys project.

  8. Roger S. So. Oregon

    Not trying to bash lawyers, but those were the days!
    You could order a new Cessna 195 from Witchita back in the early 50’s without an engine. Buy a war surplus Jacobs radial engine, drive it to the Wichita factory, install it in there parking area and fly it home. Can you even imagine?

    I have a good friend of mine that lived on the Fullerton airport during the 50’s & 60’s. I’ll have to ask him what he’s heard, but he wasn’t born until early 50’s. His parents owned the Piper and Cessna sales there and had an on field motel with a house. He talks about being around 14 years old and taking joy rides, flying his buddy’s to Catalina Island and nobody really caring that he didn’t have a license or even ask to barrow the plane. LOl

    For some weird reason, I thought that Aeronca stunt was done in Yuma. Guess I need to re-read that story again sometime.

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