Often, when we think of long-endurance flights, our first thoughts jump to military operations. Big planes with highly-trained crew will fly for long periods, using air-to-air refuelling to stay aloft for extended periods.
However, many of the longest duration flights have been undertaken as entirely civilian operations. The longest of all happened to be undertaken by that most humble of aircraft, the Cessna 172. From December 1958 to February 1959, Bob Timm and John Cook set out to make history. The duo remained aloft for a full 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes, setting a record that stands to this day.
A Test of Endurance
One might expect that such an effort was undertaken to push the envelope or to strike new ground in the world of aerospace engineering. However, the real truth is that Bob Timm was a slot machine mechanic and former bomber pilot who worked at the Hacienda casino in Las Vegas. Proprietor Doc Bailey was always on the hunt for promotional ideas, and Timm pitched his boss that a record attempt in a plane bearing the casino’s branding would be a good way to go. Bailey agreed, and committed $100,000 to the effort.
Modifications to prepare the aircraft for the stunt took the best part of a year. The pint-sized Cessna was fitted with a 95-gallon belly tank, paired with a electric pump that could transfer fuel to the main wing tanks as needed. Special plumbing was also added that would allow the engine oil and filters to be changed while the engine was still running.