When the Voyager flew to a world record for nonrefueled flight in 1986, it reached across the pages of history to touch wings with a pioneering pair of flight instructors at Fullerton Municipal Airport.
Dick Riedel and Bill Barris aboard the Sunkist Lady (Photo courtesy of the Fullerton Public Library)
In 1949 Dick Riedel and Bill Barris of Fullerton Air Service piloted the Sunkist Lady, a red and white converted Aeronca, into the endurance flight record books by staying aloft 1,008 hours and 2 minutes - a total of 42 days.
The flight was the duo's fourth attempt at breaking the 726-hour record set in 1939 by Long Beach pilots Wes Carroll and Clyde Scliepper. Their first three attempts failed because of mechanical problems.
Determined to succeed, Barris and Riedel secured the sponsorship of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce for the Lady's fourth try. The Chamber, in turn, went to the community for donations to finance the flight.
Vowing "We're going to do it this time," Barris and Riedel took off from Fullerton Airport at 11:45 a.m. March 15, with Barris at the controls. Inside the cramped plane they carried greetings from Gov. Earl Warren and Fullerton Mayor Irvin Chapman, which would be dropped over each airfield visited for refueling. Accompanying them in a second Aeronca, the Lady's Maid, was the ground crew: Frank Miller, Don Janson and Lloyd Colboch.
Ground crew passes supplies up to the record-setting pilots (Photo courtesy of the Fullerton Public Library)
The plan was for the Lady to travel from Fullerton to Miami and back. The Lady would then stay aloft over Southern California until the record had been broken. At airports along the route, the ground crew would land, board Willys Jeepsters, and race along the runway while the Sunkist Lady passed low overhead. Three-gallon cans of gasoline and food would then be passed up to the pilots.
Bad weather dogged the Lady for much of her trip, and kept her circling over Miami for 14 days before she could begin her return trip. Performing flawlessly, the Lady arrived back over Fullerton on April 11, then repeatedly crisscrossed Southland skies to chalk up hours.
At 11:45 a.m. April 26, Riedel piloted the Lady to a smooth landing at Fullerton Airport before a crowd of more than 10,000. The Lady had logged more than 75,600 land miles, and consumed 6,552 gallons of gas. Her average speed had been 75 mph, and her maximum altitude was 10,000 feet.
But the Lady's day in the sun was short-lived. Six months later, ex-Navy pilots Bob Woodhouse and Woodrow Jongerow of Yuma broke the Sunkist Lady's record by staying aloft 1,142 hours. That record stood until 1959 when Robert Timm and John Cook stayed aloft over Las Vegas for 1,430 hours.
Dick Riedel went on to become chief pilot for Martin Aviation at Orange County Airport, while Bill Barris became chief pilot for Newt Bass, developer of Apple Valley. The two men who flew into the history books together remained close friends until their deaths, within a month of each other, in 1974.