Historic Aviation

Robert Ferry, left, stands next to Phil Cammack in Culver City, California on April 6, 1966 before setting off to land in Ormond Beach the following day, breaking a world helicopter record.

Robert G. Ferry completed a world record 2,213-mile nonstop flight in a Hughes YOH-6A helicopter from Culver City, Calif., to Ormond Beach April 7, 1966.

Charly Smargesse of Ormond-by-the-Sea wants people to remember that record and is in the process of locating the exact landing spot as well as planning a commemorative plaque.

Mr. Smargesse said World War II veterans and people of that age were America’s greatest generation and made him interested in history.

“I first heard about Mr. Ferry in an article regarding test pilots,” he said. “The article listed his accomplishments, including the record-setting helicopter flight. I found it hard to believe, but, yes, it did happen and to my surprise ended on beach in Ormond Beach.

“I assumed it would be easy enough to locate the landing site, but to my chagrin it wasn’t only not easy, but almost impossible as no one believed anyone could do what I claimed had been done, which was to fly from Culver City, Calif., to Ormond Beach; 2213 miles,15 hours, 8 minutes, in the seat of a helicopter solo, nonstop.”

He added, “Once there’s a 100% certainty of the location of the landing spot I’ll put up a simple plaque stating ‘good men did exceptional work on this spot. Don’t forget them and go do your own exceptional work. That’s what made America great.’”

Mr. Ferry was a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who later became chief test pilot for Hughes Helicopters in Culver City. During his 18 years with Hughes, he flew the first flight and did most of the testing on the still widely used Apache AH-64 helicopter. He also was the only person to fly the XV-9, a research helicopter developed to demonstrate a new gas-pressure propulsion system.

For the record setting adventure, the turbine-powered helicopter designed for the Army was stripped of everything that wasn’t necessary for the flight and had an extra fuel tank installed. Mr. Ferry wore slipper socks for comfort instead of his heavy flying boots.

Phil Cammack, 85, was a Hughes Helicopter test engineer in the Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division, which sponsored the flight. He worked on the YOH-6A and flew in the large Army chase plane during Mr. Ferry’s transcontinental flight.

“There was a lot of controversy in Congress buying helicopters from Howard Hughes,” Mr. Cammack said. “They needed some good publicity. We had developed this helicopter for the Army and it was getting ready 'to shall we get a contract for production or not.' So, some of the guys in the Army thought if we set some world records that would be a positive thing to do. I planned the flight, in effect. I flew in the chase plane and we followed Bob all the way from the west coast to Florida.”

Besides Mr. Cammack, the CV-7 Buffalo chase plane included two pilots, the helicopter crew chief, a National Aeronautic Association witness, and the plane’s crew chief. Mr. Ferry had been expected to land in Miami, where the national media were reportedly waiting, but landed in Ormond Beach.

Mr. Cammack, who lives in Sierra City, Calif., added “Prior to this, we set 22 world records with this aircraft. I thought very highly of Bob. I think it would be great to have a little plaque up there honoring Bob Ferry.”

Mr. Ferry earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern College and a master’s in business administration from the University of San Diego. His career included 90 missions flown during the Korean War.

In 1997, he became the first helicopter pilot to be inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, Calif. Statistics claim he had flown 125 different types of aircraft and logged more than 10,000 hours of flying, 8,000 of them in helicopters.

Mr. Ferry died in California in 2009 at the age of 85.

Mr. Smargesse has done a lot of research, trying to find the exact spot of Mr. Ferry’s landing. Mr. Cammack provided an email he received from Mr. Ferry’s son, Dan, that stated, “From what I remember from Dad was that he landed on the beach and it was close to a motel because a man from the motel came out and talked to Dad and then put up on the motel/hotel billboard that this is where Robert Ferry landed for the world record. Hope this helps.”

If anyone has information that can help Mr. Smargesse, please email him at cdad1966@yahoo.com. Mr. Ferry’s record for the longest, un-refueled, nonstop helicopter flight still stands. The record is listed in the record books as: Great Circle Distance Without Landing.

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