Flying with Miss Veedol

My first photo flight of the year.

Early Tuesday morning, I lifted off from the ramp at Wenatchee Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee, WA on an air-to-air photo flight with Miss Veedol for Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce.

The Miss Veedol was the first airplane to fly non-stop across the Pacific ocean. A 1931 Bellanca J-300 Long Distance Special piloted by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr., it took off in Japan with 915 gallons of fuel, jettisoned the landing gear to improve aerodynamics, and crash landed 41 hours later at Fancher Field in East Wenatchee, making history. You can learn more about it and its eventual demise on Wikipedia and the Spirit of Wenatchee website.

I recommend you watch this in full-screen mode.

The Miss Veedol I flew with on Tuesday is a replica of the original aircraft that is based at Wenatchee Airport. This isn’t the first time I flew with it — we did a video flight way back in January 2014. Footage from that flight (and a few others) was incorporated into the amazing We Are Wenatchee Part I video. (This video still brings tears to my eyes; I’m so glad I live here and so proud to be part of the team that made the video. I hope you’ll check out Part II and Part III, too.) It was a difficult flight, mostly because it was bitter cold and I was having trouble keeping up with the plane.

But Tuesday was a completely different story. It was a gorgeous morning when we gathered just before dawn. I parked near Miss Veedol’s hangar and discussed the flight plan with my clients from Voortex Productions and Miss Veedol’s pilots. Then we split up. I got the helicopter going while they started up Miss Veedol’s big radial engine. The two photographers climbed on board — I had already taken their doors off — I backed the helicopter away from where Miss Veedol would be taxiing, and then I followed her down the taxiway while the photographers shot photos. By that time the sun was up, illuminating the plane’s orange wings and fuselage and casting long shadows. We circled the plane in the run up area, then moved beside it as it taxied to the runway. We took off in formation, with the helicopter slightly above and behind the plane.

The conditions were nearly perfect for the flight. Light wind, blue sky, gorgeous early morning light. It was just after 6 AM when we reached the river and headed up on the East Wenatchee side. The plane would go up one side of the river and down the other while a photographer and videographer captured images and footage.

Miss Veedol Over Columbia River
Miss Veedol with the city of Wenatchee in the background. The snow-covered mountains are the Enchantments, west of Wenatchee in the foothills of the Cascades. Most of the snow will be gone by late June. (I can see the tops of these mountains from my home.) Photo by Charley Voohris.

One of the most frustrating things to me when I do photo flights is that I can’t take photos. I see the shot but I don’t have a camera handy and, even if I did, it would be impossible to work it properly with just one hand. I have to wonder if the photographers see the same shots I do. I like flying with Charley because he usually does see the same thing I do — or something even better — and gets the shot.

Miss Veedol Over Shadows
I distinctly recall when we were in position for this shot because the shadows beneath the plane made its orange color really pop in the early morning light. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

One of our target areas was a rock formation called Saddle Rock at the top of a hill overlooking Wenatchee. Every time we do an aerial photo flight, we spend time up and around Saddle Rock. (You can see it in the closing shot of We Are Wenatchee Part I above — seriously, you must watch that video.) Part of our mission was to get photos of Miss Veedol around Saddle Rock. Charley succeeded in getting several really good shots as we circled Saddle Rock twice.

Miss Veedol Flies up a Canyon
Spring time is always green here, but this year it’s especially green with all the rain we’ve had. I followed Miss Veedol up this canyon on our second pass for Saddle Rock. I love the textures and contrasts in this shot. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Another target area was the Senator George Sellar Bridge — which I usually refer to as the South End Bridge. We circled twice at the end of the shoot.

Miss Veedol at the Columbia River Bridge
Charley managed to perfectly frame Miss Veedol between the Senator George Sellar Bridge and the historic Columbia River Bridge. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Our Flight Path
Our flight path, captured by Foreflight.

After circling the bridges, Miss Veedol headed back to the airport for a few touch and goes before taxiing back to her hangar. We went back for a few more shots at Saddle Rock. By that time there was just enough tailwind to make hovering flight a tad difficult pointing in the direction we needed to point but I think they got the shots they needed. We did a quick run to the north end of Wenatchee and then back to the south, circling Pybus Public Market once. Then it was back to the airport.

Total flight time was 1.3 hours.

I want to thank Charley Voorhis at Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce for allowing me to show these photos on social media and in my blog. It was a great flight and I look forward to our next one!

11 thoughts on “Flying with Miss Veedol

  1. Wow, very well done! I don’t live anywhere close to there, or the state of Washington for that matter, and it still brought a lump to my throat. Loved it.

    • I can only assume you are referring to the video. All three of them bring tears to my eyes. They really are an excellent look at this community. I wish I could take more credit for them, but I was just the tripod (so to speak) for a lot of the aerial shots, especially in Part I and Part II.

  2. Wonderful photos, truly beautiful. Thanks.
    What a great honour to be chosen to do that mission for your home city.
    Those early pilots were brave as lions. Over-weight with extra fuel, having to release their gear to make the distance.
    They were fined by the Japanese and interrogated on their way out.

    • Thanks very much. It really was a pleasure to do this job.

      As for weight — I read on the Spirit of Wenatchee Website that Pangborn left his boots behind in Japan because they were just added weight. And can you imagine flying 41 hours knowing that you’re going to crash land at the end? Holy cow!

  3. Isn’t it funny how much of what constitutes fame, especially “locally famous”, ends up being mostly due to random chance? They couldn’t beat the round-the-world record, so they went for the cross-pacific record instead. Then they missed Seattle and Vancouver, got weathered out of Boise, then Spokane, and Pasco, so they ended up in Wenatchee. And you guys ended up with the only original part left of the actual airplane, the broken propeller!

    As you noted, they certainly had a flexible attitude towards safety in those days. The Wikipedia account says that Pangborn had to climb out of the cabin to detach the landing gear struts when they failed to release as planned. And while he was doing this, his wealthy but apparently not particularly competent co-pilot let the plane run out of gas! Quite the adventure, for sure.

    • A legitimate record, though. The Pacific wasn’t crossed again in an airplane for more than 20 years. I guess once it was done no one else saw a reason to do it until they could make money doing it.

      The field where they landed — Fancher Field — is now home to a subdivision with great views of Wenatchee and the Enchantments. The old hangar is still there, but the land immediately around it is a RV storage place. Wenatchee Pangborn Airport is a few miles away in East Wenatchee, on a shelf directly across the river from my home. The airline passenger terminal has a mural of Miss Veedol with information about the flight.

      • By a slightly strange coincidence, there is an old airfield called Pangbourne 30 miles from where I live. (UK).
        It was used by Cobham’s flying circus during the late 1920’s and early 30’s, around the time that your Pangborn was crossing the Pacific ocean.
        During WWII it was used as a rest and recovery centre by the USAAF 8th Airforce for British -based B17 and B24 aircrews who had, what we now call, “Combat stress”. It was designated ‘Squandron F’.,
        All US aircrew, operating in the ‘European Theatre’, were offered one week’s leave in a luxurious country house after completing 25 missions (one tour). Uniforms only to be worn for evening dinner.
        It was staffed by women from the Red Cross. Many of those women became GI brides.

  4. Japan to the west coast of the U.S. is a LONG way, it’s a remarkable feat for the 1930’s era technology involved. I’m glad that they named the new airfield after the real pilot in the story, instead of the sandbag with the money. :)