January 1, 1929: The New Year Begins with New Flight Records Set by Major Carl A. Spatz and Crew


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

January 1, 1929: Boyertown’s internationally known native son, Major Carl Andrew Spatz and his four-man crew have embarked on an historic mission in their Fokker monoplane named the “Question Mark,” that pitted the resilience of man against the airplane and set two benchmark aviation records. They took off early this morning from Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport on an endurance flight.

Records had been set in 1923, when a plane remained in the air for 37 straight hours, and in 1928 for distance traveled in a single flight, at 4417 miles. The goal of the flight on the Question Mark was to determine the life of an aeroplane motor, and how long the five men can remain in the air until either the motors or the personnel give way under the strain. They set a new endurance record of 6 days, 6 hours, 40 minutes and 15 seconds and a new sustained flight record of 10,000 miles.

In-flight refueling was required to keep the plane in the air, and Spatz was responsible to hold the hose from the tanker plane into a funnel in the fuel tank of the Question Mark. In their first refueling attempt, turbulence caused the two planes to separate, yanking the hose out of Spatz’s hands. He was doused to the skin with high octane aviation fuel; and, to avoid serious burns, he ripped off all of his clothes and finished the refueling process clad in his parachute.

More than 5000 gallons of gasoline, 250 gallons of oil and 2000 pounds of food and supplies were transferred to the Question Mark during the flight, including 19 full meals, still warm; 24 quarts of ice cream, still frozen; telegrams; letters; a collapsible bath tub; bath towels; woolen underwear; a rubber suit for Major Spatz; and a window for the cabin to replace one that had been blown away. The plane was equipped with a radio, three cots, a washroom, kitchenette and card tables, probably for playing poker, Spatz’s favorite game.

(Carl changed the spelling of his last name in 1938, from Spatz to Spaatz, in order for people to pronounce it correctly. It was frequently mispronounced “Spats” instead of the German “Spots.” He said he didn’t care how it was pronounced, but his wife and daughters did.)

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