Skip to main content

Can’t Land In Cleveland

May 2024
1min read

Taking off in her modified Curtiss biplane from Chicago’s Grant Park on November 19 and landing in Hornell, New York, nearly six hours and 512 miles later, Ruth Law set a new longdistance flying record surpassing the previous one by 22 miles. Law’s plane had two secret advantages: overhangs on the wings for greater altitude and extra fuel tanks to accommodate 53 gallons instead of the normal 8. A sustaining tail wind also helped by keeping the plane’s speed at more than 100 miles per hour.

Law left Chicago at four in the morning, so bundled against the cold, she later recalled, that “I didn’t look any more like a woman than anything at all. A man, a workman with his lunch pail, came hurrying over, stretched out his hand, and said, ‘Well, good luck, young feller. I hope you make it.’”

Law flew without instruments, relying on strips of survey maps mounted on rollers inside a glass-topped box, which she tied to her left knee, “so that I could reach it and turn the map” to keep up with the changing scenery below.

There was only one bad moment: “Flying over Cleveland I looked back—the oil gauge was back of me on the radiator—and there was no pressure. But I thought, ‘I might as well keep going ‘cause I can’t land here.’” After landing at Hornell, Law flew on to New York City the next day, reaching Governors Island twenty-seven hours after her journey had begun. Representatives of the New York Central railroad pointed out that her record still fell short of the Twentieth Century Limited’s twenty-two-hour run from Chicago to New York.

Ruth Law had made news a few years earlier when she became the first woman pilot to loop the loop, in a plane she had bought in 1912 from Orville Wright. She was also the first woman to go up at night, a very hazardous business at the time. After several years’ barnstorming with Ruth Law’s Flying Circus, she retired from flying at the age of thirty-one, at her husband’s request. She died in 1970.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.