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This 1956 Ford Thunderbird was used to resupply an aircraft that had spent two months in the air

Most of us quickly get excited at the news that some planes can stay in the air for long periods of time. After all, who doesn’t love a machine that can be pushed to its limits and not break down? But did you know that the world record for the longest continuous flight belongs to an aircraft that spent more than two months continuously in the air?

In late December 1958, at a time when aviation was still capturing people’s imaginations, a daring crew consisting of pilots Robert Timm and John Cook took to the skies in the Las Vegas area a Cessna 172 Skyhawk aircraft .

Their goal was to set the record for the longest continuous flight in an airplane, and that’s exactly what they did: the crew and their machine spent 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes there, achieving something no one has been able to do since. reaches. (second place, also in a Cessna 172, clocked just over 50 hours).

That sounds great, but how did a crew of two manage to keep a plane in the air for so long? We start with the plane.

The Cessna 172 was introduced in 1956 and is technically still made, after more than 44,000 examples rolled off the production line. It is powered by a Lycoming engine and can technically fly as much as 800 miles (1,289 km) on one full fuel.

But during its record-breaking flight, the machine, nicknamed Hacienda, traveled a total of 150,000 miles (241,000 km) circling above the Nevada desert. And he was able to do that because he had help from the ground and an extra fuel tank.

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Photo: Mecum

That ground help came in the form of support trucks and cars used to transport both fuel for the plane and supplies for the crew, who took turns sleeping on a mattress and using a folding camp toilet for, well, you know you.

One of the cars that kept the Cessna in the air for so long is this 1956 Ford Thunderbird. We came across it on the lot of cars that auction house Mecum is selling at the end of the week at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis , and couldn’t resist the temptation to bring it to you.

The Ford has spent its entire existence around airplanes. It was originally owned by the people who also owned the Alamo Field, today’s McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

It was used from day one as an aircraft support vehicle, something Ford probably never expected its luxury car to ever do. That means it moved quickly across the runway, delivering supplies and other useful equipment to parked aircraft.

During the record-breaking Cessna flight, the car was used to resupply the aircraft. The pilots brought the plane as low as they could, to about twenty feet, and using a winch lowered a hook that grabbed a refueling hose attached to a truck.

But occasionally the Thunderbird was used to send up 19 liter jerry cans of fuel using a rope. The same method was used to deliver supplies to the crew, as well as to take down the debris that would otherwise have swamped the Cessna.

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Photo: Mecum

Several years after helping the Cessna set the record, the Thunderbird was sold in 1967 to the Hughes Tool Company, owned by Howard Hughes, another aerospace daredevil. It then passed to Hughes’ personal pilot, and from there it moved to various private collections.

At some point in the past the Thunderbird was restored, which explains the incredible condition it is in today.

The car is sold with the 312ci engine under the body and an automatic transmission. The odometer shows nearly 42,500 miles (68,400 km) of use, most of which was completed on runways and in the desert.

The Thunderbird is fully loaded and comes with everything electrically powered (steering, brakes, seats, windows), two roofs (a porthole hardtop and a white soft top) and beautiful wire wheels.

To make sure everyone understands how important this particular vehicle is in the history of American aviation, the seller leaves it out, complete with original photos of it in action. Service at the Hughes Tool Company is documented with a proprietary tag visible on the firewall.

The 1956 Ford Thunderbird that chased a Cessna across the Nevada desert is listed by Mecum with a reserve price of $90,000, but when the hammer falls on the car on May 17, bidding could easily take that price to as much as $110,000.

We’ll keep an eye on this car to see how it performs in Indianapolis and update this story once we know how much (or if) it ultimately sells for.