Dole Derby Vega crash

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Dole Derby Vega crash

Post by Tailspin45 » 26 Jul 2018, 22:46

As I've learned more about the Vega, and researched her history, I've pondered the fate of the very first Vega and crew that crashed in the Pacific somewhere between Oakland CA and Hawaii while competing in the Dole Air Derby just three months after Lindbergh's Atlantic crossing.

I'm impressed with the extensive provisions made for the possibility that the Vega might go down at sea which included droppable landing gear, CO2 inflatable bladders in the wings and fuselage, and even rubber seals for the doors and windows. In fact, engineers predicted the wooden aircraft would float for a month as a result of the mods.

But I wonder if the effort to make the aircraft watertight (and thus airtight) were ultimately the cause of their demise? Carefully sealed, any carbon monoxide that leaked into the cabin from the engine would soon poison the crew. The carbon monoxide binds to red blood cells and inhibits absorption of oxygen in the air. The effect was not well known at the time and the aircraft was not fully "buttoned up" on several test hops so the problem would not have been obvious if it existed.

Has anyone heard or read any speculation about the cause? I've reviewed old newsreels, newspapers, and aviation magazine from August to October 1927 but found nothing except remarks that they were never heard from again. Poor navigation, engine failure, even pilot error could have been the cause, but pilot Jack Frost and navigator Gordon Scott were exceptionally qualified, as was the aircraft.

1927 newsreel

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Re: Dole Derby Vega crash

Post by Vitus » 30 Jul 2018, 17:31

That air-race was such a nightmare. All those lives lost!
Interesting theory about the CO poisoning, I've never seen it discussed in this context. I wonder if they ever managed to fully seal off the fuselage in the first place though. There's holes drilled through the firewall to run the cables of the control column, the fuel and vacuum lines. With all the vibrations in the aircraft that would probably be a weak point.
But back to the topic: The Vega did have a cabin heating system and if there's a leak somewhere between the exhaust and those heating pipes it's certainly possible to cause CO poisoning...
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Re: Dole Derby Vega crash

Post by Marco909 » 02 Sep 2018, 08:44

Carbon monoxide leaking in to heating systems has been a killer for years, it continues to be so even today as ducting air around exhaust manifolds is still used in the General Aviation fleet. The same used to be true with some cars, I remember some words from a Fiat 500L manual which warned of the dangers of poisoning your passengers with poorly maintained exhausts! It's quite possible that a number of unexplained accidents have been caused by this danger. Regards, Mark

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