City of Yuma Flight


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The City of Yuma’s economy suffered after the Army closed the Yuma Army Air Field at the end of World War II. Seeking to save their city, a group of businessmen set-out to convince the military to reopen the base by proving that Yuma has the best year-round flying weather in the world. So, with help from the entire community two brave men took to the skies attempting to break the world’s record for continuous flight in a single engine airplane named “The City of Yuma."


Narrator: In 1949, the future of Yuma was riding on the wings of one tiny airplane and an entire community with something to prove. Years earlier, Yuma's economy was soaring as young cadets trained to be pilots for World War II. The Yuma Army Air Base was good for the city, but the good times didn't last. When the war ended, the base closed, and the city was fading fast.

Horace Griffen: When that left, it left a big hole in the economy.

Narrator: Horace Griffen, a Yuma car dealer, was on a road trip with other local businessmen when talk turned to a story making headlines about two California men trying to set the world record for continuous flight in a single-engine airplane.

Horace Griffen: Ray Smucker was sitting in the back seat, and ray said, "Hey, that would be a good way to publicize Yuma and get that air base opened up. And that's when Woody said, "You get the airplane and we'll fly it."

Woody Jongeward: And a few days later, he walked in, he says, "Well, I got the airplane."

Narrator: Woody Jongeward and Bob Woodhouse formed a team. Together they'd fly an Aeronca Sedan to try to break the endurance record that stood at 726 hours. But the real goal was to prove to the world with year-round flying weather, Yuma deserved an air base. Yuma Jaycees sponsored their promotion, and Marsh Aviation donated a mechanic, Hal Burch, who modified the airplane, adding extra fuel tanks and making it possible to add gas and change oil mid-flight. After ripping out some seats and applying a new paint job, the airplane was ready to fly...the ground crew ready to roll.

George Murdock: Brings back memories, doesn't it?

Horace Griffen: It sure does.

Narrator: This 1948 Buick Convertible is a replica of the car used to refuel the airplane.

George Murdock: When we started the endurance flight, the car belonged to me. I'd just bought it brand-new for $2,800.

Narrator: George sold the car to his boss, Horace, who drove it on every morning refueling run. Jongeward and Woodhouse started chasing the record in their airplane called The City of Yuma on April 21st, 1949. They were airborne just 74 hours before mechanical problems forced them down. A few weeks later, they tried again, this time with a new target to shoot for. Californians Bill Barris and Dick Riedel had just set a new world record flying the Sunkist Lady 1,008 straight hours. That's 42 days in the air. So The City of Yuma set its sight on 1,010 straight hours. "Ten-Ten" became the watchword and a radio code name for the refueling car. Six days into their second flight, misfortune struck again. Engine problems grounded the pilots after just 155 hours in the air. They were disappointed but never discouraged.

Woody Jongeward: No, I think -- think we expected to do it on the third try.

Narrator: The third attempt came a few months later, the evening of August 24th. The City of Yuma took to the skies and the local newspaper started tracking its progress. With each passing day, the pilots came closer to their goal, and The City of Yuma was closer to them.

Chuck Mabery: The people here were just so supportive of the whole thing, it just brought the whole community together.

Narrator: The airmen were becoming celebrities, featured on national broadcasts, interviewed over their two-way radio. People wanted to know what they ate, how they slept, and, of course, where they went to the bathroom.

Woody Jongeward: Always. We had these double bags, and I would always joke that we'd fly over California and throw it out.

Narrator: Woody and Bob took turns flying in four-hour shifts. Twice a day they'd return to the Yuma airport, catch up with the speeding car, and start gathering cans of gas.

George Murdock: He'd pass this up like this, you know, and one of the pilots, whichever one, would reach out and get it, set it inside, just keep doing it: another can, another can, another can.

Horace Griffen: They took four cans per run for a total of 12 runs. That was 48 cans of gas.

Chuck Mabery: Well, we used to draw thousands of people out there at least in the evening refueling runs, because they were sure somebody was going to get killed, and they wanted to be there and see it.

Horace Griffen: There was never one indication of anybody being concerned about it being dangerous.

Narrator: If safety was a concern, it didn't stop the pilots' wives, Betty and Berta, from participating.

Horace Griffen: As I recall, they were there every refueling, and so they would ride in the car sometimes and would stand up and kiss the boys hanging out of the airplane. That was kind of neat.

Narrator: After collecting cans and kisses, they picked up other things, too: hot water and towels for bathing and warm meals prepared by the Valley Café, delivered each day by Yuma police. As time went by, gas runs grew to three a day and airplane maintenance was constant. Nighttime offered an opportunity to escape the daily grind by communicating with friends and wives.

Chuck Mabery: And with a flashlight, I would signal them and we would carry on a conversation. Well, that worked great until the first light came on up above, and then everybody in town went in the house and got their flashlight and started flashing off dots and dashes, and it goofed up the whole operation.

Narrator: The lights in Yuma went dark for one full minute the night of October 5th, 1949. Then, accompanied by a symphony of sirens, whistles, and horns, the city lit up like a beacon the moment the record was broken. They had passed the 1,008 hour mark. When they reached 1,010, they just kept on going.

Woody Jongeward: Probably be up there still.

Narrator: But mechanical problems eventually ended their run. On the day they finally landed, thousands of people gathered at the Yuma Airport and Woody radioed his ground crew.

Horace Griffen: Woody said to me, he says, "Hey, Griff, do you remember what day this is?" And I said, "No." He said, "Its 10/10."

Narrator: October 10th, 1949, the city of Yuma's wheels touched down after 1,124 hours, nearly 47 days in the air.

George Murdock: Well, there was lots of cheering, lots of people. Everybody was wound up like an eight-day clock.

Narrator: On weak and wobbly legs, Bob and Woody stepped onto the tarmac and greeted their wives. They met with the previous record-holders and spoke to the press.

Voice: Bob and Woody, do you plan to do anything immediately except just get some rest?

Bob and Woody: Take a bath. A good hot bath. Sit in there and soak.

Voice: Well, congratulations, and thanks a lot for your cooperation.

Narrator: Their record stood for about nine years. The airplane disappeared.

Jim Gillaspie: The rumor was that the airplane crashed and burned in Kansas.

Narrator: Jim Gillaspie did a little detective work and proved the rumor wrong: the airplane was at a farm in Minnesota. In 1997, when the Yuma Jaycees made a deal to buy it, Jim and Ron Spencer brought it home.

Jim Gillaspie: Okay, just keep it like that. I guess for the love of aviation, for Yuma, you know, to bring it back to the people, make it look like it did in 1949, because this town was very proud of this airplane and this accomplishment.

Narrator: Yuma showed its community pride on the 50th Anniversary of the landing. The celebration featured simulated refueling runs, but the main event was a reunion between men and their machine. Bob and Woody flew a newly restored City Of Yuma above the military air base that was reactivated in 1951. The Marines took control in '59. Today, Yuma's Marine Corps air station is home to the Harrier. It's a lasting tribute to those risk-takers and record-breakers who proved to the world with 365 days of flying weather a year, the city of Yuma truly is a city with a future.