When you think of long endurance flights, many aircraft might come to mind including wide-body airliners, freighters or even military bombers. But believe it or not, the record for the longest endurance flight is held by a Cessna 172 that remained airborne for nearly 65 days in 1959.
The flight was organized by the owner of the Hacienda, a family-oriented casino in Las Vegas. His hope was to create a publicity stunt that would give attention to the under-performing casino.
The aircraft chosen for the flight was a Cessna 172 that was heavily modified for the long endurance flight. All of the seats except for the pilot's seat were removed. An extra 95 gallon fuel tank was installed on the belly of the aircraft, with an electric pump to transfer fuel to the wing tanks. Oil plumbing was modified so that the oil and oil filters could be replaced mid-flight.
For physiological needs the two pilots used a portable camping toilet, a small sink was installed in the rear of the aircraft.
Robert Timm and his co-pilot John Cook took off from McCarran Field, Las Vegas on December 4th, 1958. The two pilots divvied up their flying into four hour shifts. When not flying, they would try to sleep as much as possible.
Most of the flying took place over the deserts in the Blythe, California and Yuma, Arizona areas. Twice a day, a support truck would rendezvous with the aircraft over a stretch of straight highway. Hacienda would fly roughly 20 feet off the ground and lower a hook to the truck below. The truck would supply fuel and other supplies to the Hacienda.
The crew battled fatigue, cramped living conditions, a noisy environment and cold weather. Finally, after months of carbon build-up causing the loss of engine output, the two pilots decided to land the airplane. Ultimately, they remained airborne for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds.
When asked by a reporter if he would ever attempt the flight again, Cook replied: “Next time I feel in the mood to fly endurance, I’m going to lock myself in a garbage can with the vacuum cleaner running, and have Bob serve me T-bone steaks chopped up in a thermos bottle.
Today, the Hacienda (named after the casino), is displayed in its flight condition at the McCarran Aviation Heritage Museum.