One or Two Long Range Aeronca's?




A number of years ago there was a controversy regarding  the two Aeroncas that were used for long range flights in the years 1938 and 1939.

-  The first Aeronca was known as the  "Johnny Jones" plane and was used to fly non-stop across the US  in 1938   That story is summarized here

-  The other was Tommy's Smith's plane known as the "Baby Clipper".   Tommy attempted to fly the Atlantic in 1939.

Both planes had large built in fuel tanks.

Offical records show they were two separate planes.  Even folks with a strong connection to the Aeronca facility were of this opinion. Their scepticism of the idea that they were the same aircraft  was warranted,  given the paper trail.  The official record shows the Jones plane was sold to a Kurk Bjorkvall, Swedish national and that in fact the serial number of the Jones plane appears in the Swedish records.  Records also show that serial number as being attached registration number AE-AHL which was owned by Kurt Bjorkval
l and Ake Forsmark.   Unfortunately  AE-AHL  was written off in a crash in 1940.       

Our suspicions were raised when we requested and reviewed the FAA file  on
the Jones plane, US reg # NX21300.    It showed the date of manufacture, correspondance between CAA and Aeronca  and bit of repair history including the repair that was preformed after a ground accident in Glendale, California. Apparently another airplane taxied into the wing of the Jones airplane.  (that documented repair will prove useful later)   It also showed that after the transcontinental flight, Aeronca was interested in selling their experimental aircraft.   It also showed Bjorkvall was interested in buying the plane and with intention  of flying  it back to Sweden.   Bjorkvall had already been involved in his own aviation adventures when in 1936 he flew across the ocean in a Bellanca CH 400W Pacemaker (SE-AFG).  His flight was officially a failure  since he didn't actually make it to Ireland, but rather crashed a bit short of the Irish coast.  As side note to that flight, he was to take the Barroness Eve Blixen–Fineche with him, but abandoned her at the last minute.   A decision he didn't regret considering how difficult and dangerous the flight ended up being.  Interesting Bjorkvall decided to fill his Bellanca with ping-pong balls in the event that he crashed it sea.   It looks like that was a good decision!

Back to the story at hand. Bjorkvall  wanted the Jones plane and intended to fly it back to Sweden.  He approached Aeronca to buy the airplane for $1500.00  During the course of negotiations he asked for US registration to be removed.  Aeronca complied.  That was a hugh mistake.     He was then informed by the CAA that he could not re-register this Experimental aircraft in United States or Sweden.  He was caught with a plane that no one could fly.    There the story appears to end with Bjorkvall  buying the Jones plane and being forced to boxed it up and ship it back to Sweden where he registers it under AE-AHL and it crashes in 1940.

It is also known that Smith was also interested in the Jones plane  1and also planned to fly the Atlantic.  Records show Smith bought his Aeronca just two days after Bjorkvall found out he could not re-register and fly the Jones plane across the Atlantic.      Interesting, Smith paid $3000 for his plane, double what Bjorkvall was willing to pay.   Smith's  Aeronca  was delivered just weeks after his order, this is unusual as Aeronca production logs during that period show a normal lead time on a stock plane was between 10 and 14 weeks.
 
Through correspondence with Eric Bratt, the person who piloted
AE-AHL when it crashed,  he revealed that AE-AHL had no long-range fuel tanks and had a normal tank, with the exception of small aux tank located in the back of the plane.   It was obvious that this was not the Jones plane,  since it had  two very large tanks that were built into the structure of the airplane.

The following PowerPoint  was produced a number of years ago by my friend Russ.  It shows in a real simple way, how it was made to  look like they were two  long range Aeroncas.    I suspect Tommy bought the Jones airplane for $1500.00 and as a part of deal he also  bought a new stock Aeronca  for Bjorkval which was boxed up and shipped to Sweden and became which became AE-AHL.

1  Letters to the Editor - Harris (Mac) McMann   The Vintage Airplane    1985