You’ve heard of record-making aviators Charles Lindberg, Amelia Earhart, and even the Wright Brothers. But who was Russell Maughan? Born and raised in Logan, Utah, Russell Maughan was a fighter pilot in World War I, and later served as a test pilot for the US Army Air Service. World War I had spurred rapid developments in aviation, and the US government was eager to expand the military and commercial potential of air transportation.
Lt Russell Maughan advanced that goal significantly on June 23, 1924 when he beat the sun in a famous dawn to dusk flight from New York City to San Francisco. Spanning the distance between the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge in less than 24 hours, Maughan flew solo in a Curtis Hawk aircraft, taking off from Mitchell Field in New York at daybreak and setting down at San Francisco’s Crissy Field just on dark. A major aviation milestone, this transcontinental flight traversed nearly 4000 miles, took 21 hours 48 minutes and 30 seconds, and averaged a flight speed of 150 miles per hour.
This man and his flying machine riveted the country’s attention in a way that would not be matched until Charles Lindberg’s record-making trans-Atlantic flight three years later. As one Utah reporter wrote: “The significance of [Maughan’s] feat can hardly be grasped … when it is remembered that a little over seventy years ago the covered wagon of pioneer days took eleven months to do what the modern airplane accomplished today from dawn to dusk.”
Indeed, Russell Maughan’s own grandfather, a Mormon pioneer who settled Cache Valley, experienced that seemingly endless journey across the plains, while his grandson crossed the entire nation in the light of a single day in 1924. In contrast, that same flight from New York City to San Francisco can be accomplished today in a mere five hours.
Megan van Frank for Utah Humanities © 2010
Image: Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan with Curtiss PW-8 Hawk A.S. 24-204, 10 June 1924. Courtesy of National Air and Space Museum.
See “20th Century Utahns of Achievement,” Beehive History, Volume 17, Utah State Historical Society, 1991, pp. 19-20; “Russell Maughan, First Flight”, Monuments and Markers Database, Utah Division of State History, http://history.utah.gov/research_and_collections/markers/index.html; Lee Overman, “Flying Easy Says Maughan,” Ogden Standard Examiner, June 29, 1924, p. 27; “Aviator Maughan Spans Continent,” Iron County Record, July 4, 1924, p. 6; “Dawn to Dusk Transcontinental Flight: Logan Will Do Honor to Flier,” The Box Elder News, July 15, 1924, p. 1; “Aviation – From Wright to Lindbergh; Heroes Who Helped Mankind Grow Wings,” Salt Lake Telegram, June 5, 1927, p. 28; F. Ross Peterson, A History of Cache County, Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1997.
The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org