Max Conrad passed away in 1979 at age 76. He had flown airplanes
for more than half a century, had crossed the Atlantic and
Pacific Oceans nearly 200 times, and set many distance and
endurance records for light planes. With more than 50,000
flight hours, near the end of his flying career he was considered
the foremost light plane pilot in the world. Read more, below,
about this prodigious pilot.
Conrad signed the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register once on
March 18, 1931. He was flying a Ryan aircraft, NC354K, on
what looks like either a round-robin from Carlsbad, CA back
to San Diego, CA, or a westbound trip from Carlsbad, NM to San
Diego. Unfortunately, he did not mention the state he arrived
from. He carried four unidentified passengers, and cited Winona,
MN as his home base, which is, in fact, where he was born
in 1903, and where he lived.
In 1929 he had suffered a skull fracture, from which he was
still recovering when he came to Tucson (see this link
for some of his biographical and aeronautical history, and
images). While this link focuses on his pole flight, he accomplished
many other light plane flights and set numerous records. For
a review of some of them, please download this article
that appeared in AOPA Pilot in November, 1999. Further, this
takes you to a site managed by a Conrad aficionado, which,
as well as reporting on his flying activities, includes music
about flying that Conrad composed and recorded.
Max Conrad worked for the Piper Aircraft Corporation (see Register pilot William T. Piper, Jr.) and
ferried small planes around the world for a living. But, his
avocation was putting airplanes and himself to tests of endurance.
He also wrote songs, poems and short stories, played several
musical instruments and was an athlete in his younger days
(he was an American entry in the 1932 Olympic high jump contest).
Below is an image which appeared in the December 2002 issue
of Flying Magazine, which recalled Conrad’s 1952 trans-Atlantic
flight in a Piper Pacer.
Below is the text of a press release prepared in 1958 for
the Piper Aircraft Corporation, Lock Haven, PA by a public
relations firm. It documents a ferry flight made in a Piper
Comanche, and I share it with you because it provides a nice
summary of what it was like to ferry an aircraft across the
Atlantic in the late 1950s. While the flight described below
was not for the record books, the following year, in 1959,
he set two world non-stop records flying Comanches from Casablanca
to Los Angeles, CA and from Casablanca to El Paso, TX.
“CONRAD MAKES 4,440 MILE FLIGHT
“Max Conrad, trans-Atlantic ferry pilot, landed a single
engine, 250 horsepower Piper Comanche at Bocca di Falco Airport,
Palermo, Sicily, on Monday, June 23, after a 4,440-mile, non-stop[
flight from Idlewild Airport, New York. The flight, a routine
delivery, was made in 32 hours, 53 minutes – seven minutes
less than the 33-hour flight time Conrad had estimated when
he left Idlewild shortly after dawn on June 22.
“The Comanche flown by Conrad was the Super Custom
model, standard in all respects except for the installation
of extra gas tanks and a long range radio. The 325 gallons
of gasoline carried aboard the Comanche enabled Conrad to
fly from Idlewild to Palermo, then a second leg from Palermo
to Rome and a third leg from Rove to Cannes before refueling.
At Cannes, Conrad figured he still had enough gas remaining
to carry him to Paris.
Longest Flight to Date
“The flight from New York to Palermo was the longest
hop to date for Conrad, who had previously made 39 trans-Atlantic
crossings in light aircraft. His first two round trips were
made in 1950 and 1952 in a 135 horsepower Piper Pacer. In
1954 he ferried a twin engine Piper Apache non-stop from New
York to Paris. Since then he has delivered 31 Apaches to Europe,
as well as several other types of planes. A native of Winona,
Minn., Conrad at present makes his home in San Francisco.
“For the New York-Palermo crossing, Conrad followed
a Great Circle route which took him over Sydney, Nova Scotia
and Argentia, Newfoundland, and south of weather ships Charlie
and Juliette. His landfall in Europe was the border of France
and Spain. He chose to fly across Spain south of the Pyrennees,
across the Mediterranean Sea to Sardinia and thence to Palermo.
“Altitude assigned for the flight was 7,000 feet, though
as he crossed Spain and headed out over the Mediterranean
Conrad climbed to 16,000 feet in order to get above bad weather
and take advantage of winds forecast to be favorable aloft.
“Heavy rain and severe thunderstorm activity caused
radio interference as the Comanche approached Sicily, and
Conrad held over the water for an hour waiting for conditions
to improve. The landing was made in clear weather shortly
“Several thousand persons, including participants in
the GIRO, Sicily’s annual sports plane tour, waited
at the airport to welcome Conrad. The Comanche, owned by Jonas
Aircraft and Arms Co., Inc., Piper export distributor, was
turned over to Robert Goemans, Jonas representative in Europe.
Radio Contact All the Way
“In the course of the 33-hour flight, Conrad established
radio contact with U.S. and Canadian stations, the two North
Atlantic weather ships, a TWA trans-Atlantic flight, and radio
stations at Shannon, London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona as
well as a consul station at Lugo, Spain. He lost radio contact
for a few hours as he neared the coast of France, then discovered
that his foot had accidentally disconnected the lead to his
long range Sunair radio. He was quickly able to re-establish
the connection and except for this incident his radio equipment,
including Narco Omnigator and low frequency radios and Lear
ADF, worked perfectly.
“On his return to New York June 27 by commercial airliner,
Conrad was asked how he had managed to stay awake throughout
the long flight. ‘I had no trouble at all,’ said
the 55-year old flier, father of 10 children and grandfather
of two. ‘After the busy days that preceded the flight,
and particularly the three hours spent gassing the plane in
the rain at Idlewild, the flight was the first real rest I’d
had in quite a while.’
“The New York to Palermo flight did not in itself set
a record for aircraft of the Comanche’s power and weight.
It did, however, provide Conrad and Piper Aircraft Corporation
with a great deal of long range cruise information which may
prove useful in future record attempts.”
November 9, 2009 update. The following article appeared in the June, 2009 issue of Sport Aviation, published by the Experimental Aircraft Association. The Association holds some of Conrad's records. The article suggests reading Conrad's diary (PDF 3.7MB), which covers the period January 20-June 1, 1928. It's an interesting read.
Max Conrad in Sport Aviation, June, 2009
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 12/30/05 REVISED: 11/09/09, 12/12/10