January 1940 saw a mass migration of light planes from throughout the United States to Florida. Held in conjunction with the Miami All-American Air Maneuver Air Races, the group flights of personal planes was known as the Light Airplane Cavalcade.
Under the sponsorship of the Gulf Oil Co. and the manufacturers of Cub, Taylorcraft and Aeronca planes, the 1940 cavalcade was phenomenal in its ﬂying safety record, as well as the number of aircraft participating. With more than 600 aircraft arriving in Florida, it was one of the great contributions to sport flying up to that time.
More amazing than the number of aircraft participating was that these were newly designed and produced aircraft that hit the market in 1938, all powered by the newly developed four-cylinder horizontally opposed engines of 40 to 65 horsepower.
These new, lower priced aircraft caught the flying public’s imagination — within two years of their introduction, nearly 7,000 of these aircraft were purchased. All had prices under $2,000, with some as low as $1,000.
To encourage participation in the cross-country migration, Gulf Oil provided vouchers for free gasoline and oil for pilots registered with their plane’s manufacturer. Though official sponsorship came from Aeronca, Piper and Taylorcraft, other manufacturers, including Stinson, Luscombe and Porterfield, also organized owners for the tour. Pilots flying each of these types of aircraft were sent credit cards issued though Gulf.
The routes were arranged so that the longest non-stop flight was 140 miles and some of the shorter ones as little as 40 miles. This seemed to be a good choice as the average range of the aircraft was around 250 miles.
The tour was divided into three divisions — Eastern, Central and Southwestern. The Eastern Division originated from Roosevelt Field in New York; the Central Division from Bowman Field in Louisville, Ky.; and the Southwestern from Dallas. Aircraft in each division were accompanied by a Civil Aeronautics inspector.
The majority of the airplanes participating in the event were 40- to 50-horsepower models with cruising speeds from 60 to 90 mph. The popularity of the Piper Cub is shown by the fact that almost half of them were Cubs.
The lower-powered aircraft started on Dec. 28, 1939, a day ahead of the higher powered models.
More than 1,000 pilots and passengers participated in the tour to Florida, all amateur airmen. They acted as their own flight leaders, navigators and mechanics. That not a single person was hurt is a real testament to the airmen and to the new aircraft and powerplants.
One of more famous people to participate in the tour was Zack Mosley, who drew the “Smiling Jack” comic strip. He and his wife flew in a new Piper Cub Coupe.
Helen Wilcox of the 99s also flew in a Cub Coupe, bringing along a Life photographer.
Among others was Dr. Alfons Bacon of Chicago, who brought his wife and their son Chucky, 10, in a new Stinson. From Ann Arbor, Mich., was Maude Rufus, who flew with her son, Herman.
The weather on the trip turned out to be some of the worst seen in 17 years. Indianapolis had nine inches of snow. All the pilots from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin ran into sub-zero weather. On the East Coast pilots were stuck for two days on account of low ceilings and visibility in the hundreds of yards. The Central Division finally got out of the snow, only to run into icing in southern Kentucky.
Dick Fender, the CAA inspector with this group, halted the flights at Smith’s Grove, Ky., where a mild sleet storm left each ship coated with ice. The next day saw the ice being rubbed off the wings using tie-down ropes in a sawing fashion over the wings. All eventually worked out as Dec. 30 saw good weather for all divisions.
The only real accident of the trip took place in Georgia where two pilots sheared off the wing of their Taylorcraft after attempting to takeoff out of a little pasture where they had stopped for fuel and directions. Both were able to get rides in other planes and went on the next day.
In all, 679 aircraft from around the United States and Canada arrived safely in Florida. It was a great demonstration for what at that time was called “personal flight.”
A report from Gulf Oil estimated that the aircraft taking part in the cavalcade consumed about 110,000 gallons of 73 octane fuel in 24,000 hours of flying. The planes were estimated to have flown an average of 35 hours each and averaged about 4.5 gallons of fuel each, per hour.
The record for distance flown by a participant was held by Feda Kissame of Pasadena, Calif., who flew her Luscombe 65 from Burbank Airport, across mountains and the desert on the way to Florida. Her round trip flight amounted to about 5,000 miles. For the rest of the participants the average was about 2,500 miles round trip.
Without a doubt, the Lightplane Cavalcade to Florida was one of the most impressive events in civil aviation in the United States. The spectacle of hundreds of light planes converging on Florida from points all over the United States and Canada constituted one of the greatest peacetime air demonstrations ever staged — and certainly one that made a far greater sales impression on the general public as to the utility of personal airplanes than any previous event in aviation history.