A portrait of 1st. Lt. Russell Maughan taken in June 1924, just...

A portrait of 1st. Lt. Russell Maughan taken in June 1924, just before taking off from Mitchel Field for his transcontinental flight, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Credit: Linda Rosier

One hundred years ago Sunday, 1st Lt. Russell Maughan took off from Mitchel Field. Just under 22 hours later, he landed at Crissy Field, San Francisco, marking the first flight from coast to coast of the United States in a single day.

Maughan was a World War I fighter pilot from Logan, Utah. The U.S. Army  sponsored his flight in a Curtiss PW-8, a small plane with one engine and an open cockpit.

The milestone is part of more than a century of aviation history on Long Island.

Josh Stoff, curator at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, said Long Island was the focal point of new records and achievements in the field. “If you wanted to make a trans-Atlantic flight, it began or ended right here,” Stoff said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The first-ever flight from coast-to-coast in the U.S. took off from Mitchel Field 100 years ago, as of Sunday.
  • A graduate student, Nathan Hoch, is trying to retrace the flight in a different way, using commercial flights and cars.
  • Long Island was a hub for aviation innovation in the 1920s and 1930s, with Roosevelt Field as the largest civilian airport in the U.S. at the time.

The Island was home to two major air fields — Roosevelt Field, the largest civilian airfield in America by the early 1930s, and Mitchel Field, the military air field that Maughan's flight took off from.

The time around the 1920s and '30s saw aviation transform from a dangerous sport for the rich into a commercial industry. This history included Charles Lindbergh's flight from Roosevelt Field to Paris in 1927, which marked the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. In 1931, also on June 23, aviators Wiley Post and Harold Gatty took off on a round-the-world flight that lasted eight days and 15 hours.

The Hempstead Plains, which were in the central area of Nassau County, was the only natural prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains, making it an ideal spot for planes to land and take off. 

Maughan stopped five times for fuel along the way, and was greeted by thousands of people when he landed in San Francisco. This successful “dawn-to-dusk” journey (though he took off before sunrise and landed after 9 p.m.) was his third attempt at the record, the first two disrupted by mechanical pitfalls.

Archives from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1924 described Maughan as modest and shy, quoting him after the accomplishment: " 'I'm still surprised that all these people came out here last night and made such a fuss,' ” wrote the Eagle.

To commemorate the historic flight, Nathan Hoch, a graduate student at Utah State University studying aerospace engineering, decided he would trace the same route exactly from June 23, 1924.

Hoch read about Maughan's dawn-to-dusk flight at a monument on Utah State's campus, and, ignited by his self-proclaimed aviation nerdiness, began to research what it would take to retrace his trip.

Nathan Hoch stands next to pictures of Col. Russell Maughan,...

Nathan Hoch stands next to pictures of Col. Russell Maughan, who made a transcontinental flight 100 years ago that Hoch plans to retrace by commercial travel, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Thursday. Credit: Linda Rosier

“It was kind of a  harebrained idea, or a pipe dream, but in the evenings I would make plans, map it out to see if there were actually flights that I could take to recreate his flight,” said Hoch.

That's when he found a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to San Francisco that lands at 9:50 p.m. on Sunday. The last leg of Maughan's flight took off about two hours outside of Salt Lake City and landed in San Francisco at 9:53 p.m. It was too perfect to pass up.

Hoch is starting at the museum in Uniondale, exactly where Maughan, took off, and taking rental cars when needed to accurately mimic each stop, some deserted and remote. Hoch's wife, Kristi, and 4-month-old son, Ross, will meet him at Salt Lake International Airport and drive him to Salduro, Utah, as part of this remapping.

The president of the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Andrew Parton, had not heard of Maughan's flight until Hoch reached out. 

“There are stories just like this one that come into the museum every day, every week, that we hear about sometimes for the first time, sometimes we knew about it long ago,” Parton said, adding that the story will live on as photos in the museum archives.

“The neat thing is that it all started here at Mitchel Field.”

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