Minnesota Moment: An attempt to set an aviation record turns tragic in 1929

August 3, 2018

What happened: The Minneapolis, an airplane attempting to set a record for remaining aloft, crashed just after it had marked its 154th hour in the sky.

When: July 29, 1929.

The story: It was almost half-past 5 in the morning, and the ground crew at Wold-Chamberlain Field scrambled to pick up the note dropped by the pilot of the Minneapolis.

Everything is going fine, the note said. It asked for some more gasoline, said they didnt need oil. The crew ran off to prep the plane that would refuel the Minneapolis in the air. But minutes later, observers saw the plane fall like a ton of lead.

Capt. Preston Crichton, who was at the controls, was killed. Owen Haugland,the other pilot, was critically wounded.

Observers surmised that the plane had lost too much speed when it slowed to drop its final message. Crichton had tried to gain altitude, but only got 200 feet into the air before the plane rolled over and crashed.

The back story: Setting and breaking endurance records was popular at the time.

When the U.S. Army Air Corps plane Question Mark set a record in January 1929, Haugland decided to try to break the record. He wasnt alone. More than 40 different aviation teams tried to beat the Question Marks record.

Haugland was a local aviation star whod learned to fly in 1927 so he could take his paralyzed wife to weekly treatments in South Dakota. When he decided to take on the Question Mark, he mortgaged his house and gas station, bought two planes (one to fly, one for refueling), and took off.

The deadly 1929 flight was his sixth attempt to beat the record. There wouldnt be a seventh. Haugland never regained consciousness after the crash.

Theres no marker where the Minneapolis crashed. Its lost under the expanse of concrete and buildings we call MSP, where every day flights leave and arrive without incident an ongoing testament to the early pilots who pushed the art of flight to the edge, and beyond.

James Lileks

Update hourly