Sometimes it seems that long-haul flights between different continents last for weeks, rather than hours. But imagine really spending three weeks onboard without landing. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, the Hunter brothers made it possible by flying non-stop for 23 days in the summer of 1930.
Hunters had an ambitious dream to make the longest flight without landing in the world. 90 years ago, they turned their flight endurance record dream into reality.
Love from the first glance
The story of the Hunter brothers started in their hometown Sparta, Illinois, U.S. in the early 1900s. The Hunter family had six children, including brothers Albert, John, Kenneth, Walter, and two sisters ‒ Mabel and Irene. In their teenage years, the brothers were obsessed with motorcycles and worked in automotive garages together in their teenage years.
Their love for aviation sparked in 1923, when the boys saw a flying aircraft for the first time and fell in love with planes. Brothers decided to sell all of their motorcycles to buy one aircraft.
A local pilot, Bud Gurney, started teaching John how to operate an aircraft. It took only 1.5 hours of instructions for John to start piloting an airplane. Later, Gurney taught the rest of the brothers how to pilot a plane.
In 1924, the Hunter brothers already had two airplanes and had become air performers. Together with Gurney, they were doing air stunts, parachute leaps, wing-walking and changing from one plane to another in mid-air.
The idea of hitting the world record
From 1925 through 1929, all four brothers had stable jobs in airmail and spent less time on air performances. Nevertheless, they still had a huge desire to break some new limits in aviation. Among them was the dream to break the flight endurance record ‒ to spend as much time in the air as possible without landing.
In 1929, John and Kenneth made the first try with their Stinson SM-1 Detroiter, which was named “Chicago We Will” and later known as “City of Chicago.” Hunters spent 11 days in the air. They were forced to land due to the weather conditions after viscous fog prevented another plane from delivering a fuel replacement and also it stopped Hunter brothers from hitting a new endurance flight record.
553h 41m 30s without landing
In 1930, all four brothers put effort into another try to hit the flight endurance record. John and Kenneth flew “City of Chicago” again. Albert and Walter were flying in another plane to deliver necessary fuel replacements.
“City of Chicago” started its journey on June 11 and finished on July 4, 1930. Hunters spent 553 hours, 41 minutes, and 30 seconds flying over territory of Illinois. They hit the record as the longest flight without landing. On the ground, brothers were cheered by the crowd of 75,000 when they landed at Sky Harbor Airport.
The heritage of Hunter aviators
All brothers kept their passion for aviation long years after. Sadly, John Hunter died in the flight incident in 1932. The same destiny took Kenneth in 1974. Walter had a long-year career working at American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) as a pilot, he died after retiring in 1983. The last brother, Albert, flew only during his spare time until he died in 1942.
Although the Hunter brothers’ record was hit several times after 1930, they truly were called “astronauts of their day,” since their crazy air shows and other extreme accomplishments have not only gathered thousands of people together but also sparked the love for aviation to all of them. Many years after, the anniversary of their flight endurance record has been celebrated in the incredible airshows at Hunter Field. They also became an inspiration for many aviators and aviation lovers in their hometown Sparta.