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Taking the ‘Flying Bathtub’ to record breaking heights in Ohio

I remember Howard Mayes Jr. telling me about a flight he flew in a Boeing 747 from either New York or Philadelphia to California nonstop when he was a vice president of United Airlines.

This was an evaluation flight to determine if it were feasible to fly such long distances nonstop. He reported back to the United Airlines president that it was too long a flight for the passengers to endure and vetoed the idea. I wonder what he would think of Qantas’s commercial flight from Sidney, Australia to New York nonstop. It took 19 hours and 16 minutes and they still had 70 minutes of fuel left.

Irene Crum is another near-famous alumnus of our Lawrence County airport.

She learned to fly with Howard Mayes Sr. as her instructor. She attempted, and made, an altitude record at the Gallipolis airport. She used the same plane that Howard Mayes, Jr. flew earlier to a record breaking attitude (19,975 feet) for young pilots at our airport.

You can still see the plane at the Experimental Aircraft Association museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It is a Aeronca C- 2N that was modified by the Mayes father and son to come under the weight limit for the record.

The plane was nicknamed the “Flying Bathtub,” inspired by its unique fuselage and weighed just 436 pounds. It was powered by a two-cylinder, horizontally-opposed air-cooled engine rated 36 horsepower. The Portsmouth Sohioan newspaper in October 1936 reported that Irene Crum set an altitude record on Aug. 23, 1936 for light planes at the Air Show and Regatta in Gallipolis. The show was sponsored by Dr. Holzer.

Ms. Crum set a record altitude for women in a light weight planes at an internationally recognized record of 19,425.81 feet.

The Herald Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia, reported the event was attended by 40,000 people. The paper went on to say that Ms. Crum reported she could have flown higher, but because of the bitter cold, she decided to descend. 

The Huntington Advertiser also covered the event and had this to say, “The flier insisted on sharing the credit for the flight’s success with Lieutenant Howard Mayes Sr., manager of the Huntington-Ironton-Chesapeake airport and owner of the plane.”

According to various sources, our Lawrence County Airport was also known as Mayes Field, Huntington Downtown Airport, besides being known as the Huntington-Ironton-Chesapeake Airport.

Irene Crum also enlisted in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in World War II, where she served as a captain. They were vital to the Army Air Corps, ferrying bombers, fighters and cargo planes all over the country.

The planes were supposed to be test flown and checked out by a test pilot, but often the first time they were flown was with a WASP pilot ferrying the plane to an airport for delivery to a combat zone. They were remarkable people.

After the war, she went on to be an instructor of Army Air Corps pilots in Gainesville, Florida. She returned to Huntington, West Virginia, where she died on April 9, 1977 and is buried in the Windmere cemetery.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com