On May 10, 1912, Glenn L. Martin stood on a dock in Newport Bay, California and solemnly handed over his gold pocket watch to engineer Charlie Day. “Take care of this,” the 26-year-old barnstorming aviator said, “in case I go for a swim.”
The skies were overcast, and Martin’s crew urged him to postpone his planned flight until clearer skies prevailed. But Martin, who had recently hit upon the idea of mounting a pontoon below the seat of one of his 75-horsepower, 32-foot-long Model 12 airplane to make it seaworthy, wasn’t willing to wait.
His mother, Minta, slipped an inflated bicycle inner tube over his neck just in case, as thirty-four miles of ocean lay between him and his destination, Catalina Island. Throttling the engine, he said, “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Some thirty-seven minutes later, sticking to a compass heading of 240 degrees through the clouds, he gracefully touched down at his destination. Jubilation gave way to horror as a group of young men dragged his plane onto Catalina’s gravely shores, tearing a hole in his pontoon. It took five hours for a local yachtsman to patch it.
Martin’s situation went from bad to worse as, upon takeoff for the return flight, the patch tore open. Martin brought all of his barnstorming skills to bear as he splashed down nose high as near to the shore as possible. With the pontoon quickly taking on water, the plane came to a stop just as the waterline reached the bottom of its wing.
He’d just set two world records, the longest hydroplane flight and the longest round-trip flight over water. But he had other concerns. “Charlie, what have you done with my watch?” he yelled.
Day had dashed shoulder-deep into the surf to help beach the plane; the watch in his pocket was ruined. But with two world records, and international acclaim soon to follow, it seemed more than an even trade.
Sources and Additional Reading
- Catalina Chamber of Commerce. “Catalina Air Show in Sept,” http://www.catalinachamber.com/mediafilming/whats-new/airshow, accessed 24 April 2012.
- Harwood. Raise Heaven and Earth.