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Marlene Gantt

Marlene Gantt

Mary Owens and Jean LaRene, women flyers, attempted in 1934 to establish a new women’s record for consecutive hours in the air, and their journey included a stop in the Quad-Cities

The flyers took off on Sept. 13, 1934, from Curtiss-Reynolds Airport in Chicago on their fifth attempt. Bad weather and mechanical difficulties had stopped them on four previous attempts.

“The two girls and their refueling plane, piloted by Kenneth and John Hunter of Sparta, Ill., holders of the men’s endurance record of three weeks and some odd hours in the air, reached Moline Airport about 9 last night,” according to a report in The Daily Dispatch.

The plane had been refueled in the air just before leaving Chicago for Moline. Due to the possibility of ground fog at Moline, the Hunter brothers put an additional 80 gallons of gasoline in the Lone Star.

The Lone Star was a Curtiss-Thrush six-passenger monoplane. The seats had been removed, and a bed and other conveniences had been installed to permit the pilots to rest and eat in a fair amount of comfort.

“Kenneth Hunter said the decision to leave Chicago was made suddenly when the ‘weather closed in,' " reported The Daily Dispatch. There was heavy rain and fog at Chicago.

Kenneth Hunter had Quad-Cities connections. Five years earlier, he had been employed as an instructor at Cram Field in Davenport. Then he and his brother established the world endurance record and gained fame in aviation circles.

“The first news that the Moline Airport had that the endurance flyers were headed toward the Quad-Cities came about 8 last night in the form of a telegram from the Curtiss-Reynolds field, asking boundary and beacon lights be kept in service,” reported the newspaper.

On the night of Sept. 13, the plane was refueled around 10 p.m. at Moline. Several hundred people were said to be at the airport that night.

“They watched the refueling plane with its heavy gasoline hose dangling take to the air and then saw the lights of the two ships converge until one was directly above the other. They were not more than 15 feet apart, since the hose is only 30 feet in length and an allowance must be made for the wind pressure, which doubles the hose into a U shape,” reported The Daily Dispatch.

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The refueling, which was done by John Hunter leaning far out of the cabin door and maneuvering the hose into the tank of the Lone Star, took only about three minutes. The plane used about 14 gallons of fuel per hour.

The Hunters spent the night on the ground. On the morning of Sept. 14, they were unable to locate the Lone Star due to the fog.

LaRene said she held the Lone Star over Moline Airport until 3 a.m., when the weather started to get “terribly thick.” She climbed to 7,000 feet but could not get above the fog.

"We flew blind the rest of the night,” she told the newspaper. "We had no idea where we were and kept looking for a hole in the fog to get nearer the ground."

Finally, they were forced down by lack of gasoline. They landed in a cornfield near Victoria, about 11 miles northeast of Galesburg.

“We were lucky in coming out from under the fog just above a cornfield,” she told the paper. “Mary and I were just getting used to the monotony of sitting up there circling around and around. I guess you get accustomed to most anything after a while.”

When the plane came down, the ceiling was within 100 feet of the ground. Hills and ravines surrounded the cornfield.

The Lone Star was in the air for 52 hours and 45 minutes. There was no damage to the plane. The women were fine. The endurance record for women was 239 hours.

Kenneth Hunter flew the plane back to the Moline Airport.

Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a retired Rock Island teacher.

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