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Flight of the Question Mark

In 1929 the U.S. Army Air Corps attempted to break the world's record for an endurance flight with an Atlantic-Fokker C-2A aircraft. To capture the public's attention, the Army Air Corps stated that the aircraft would remain aloft as long as possible, and to highlight the point, the aircraft was named the Question Mark. 

On New Year's Day, the C-2A commanded by Maj. Carl Spatz (later changed to Spaatz) took off from Metropolitan Airport at Van Nuys, Calif., and began circling the area. Since the aircraft carried only a limited amount of gasoline, inflight refuelings were accomplished through hoses lowered from two Douglas C-1 aircraft. Oil, food and water were lowered by rope.

Due to the unreliability and extra weight of air-to-air radios, the Question Mark and refueling planes did not carry radios. The aircrews communicated with hand signals, flashlight signals, ground panels, notes dropped to the ground and by messages written on blackboards carried in the planes.

After 42 refuelings, including nine at night, one of the Question Mark's engines failed, which forced the aircraft to land at Metropolitan Airport on Jan. 7. However, the Question Mark's crew had set the world flight endurance record by staying aloft for 150 hours, 40 minutes and 14 seconds.

Besides setting the world record, this flight had proven the reliability of the Army Air Corps' aircraft and engines, and it provided data about the effects of continuous flight on aircrews. It also triggered a rash of civilian endurance flights, which focused even greater public attention upon aviation. In 1930 a civilian plane carrying two men remained in the air for 647 hours, 28 minutes.

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