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Robert Timm and John Cook Flew a Plane for Over 64 Days Without Landing

What inspires impossible, record-breaking feats? The obvious answers are glory, fame, and even money.

Is there any incentive that could convince you to spend over two months in a space that measures only 48 inches high, 40 inches wide, and 11 feet 10 inches long?

That’s the size of the cabin of the Cessna 172 in which Robert Timm and John Cook spent an incredible 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes.

 Photograph of the Hacienda aircraft flying over a car. Image via X.

These two world record-breakers didn’t do it for anything as nebulous as glory, though. Instead, they spent 1/6th of their year inside a Cessna to promote the Hacienda Casino.

With a modified plane, infinite patience, and a stunning lack of sleep, Robert Timm and John Cook did the impossible. But how did they manage it?

The Hacienda And The Aviation Endurance Record

When the Hacienda was first built, it had one goal: to be Las Vegas’s first family-oriented hotel and casino. To pull that off, they would need to set themselves apart from the other seedier resorts on the strip.

One of the brilliant ideas that owner Warren Bayley had was to ferry customers from Los Angeles to the Hacienda via plane for only the cost of a room and some casino chips. Calling the service Hacienda Airlines, the transport service would be short-lived, but successful.

In order to support the Hacienda and Hacienda Airlines, Bayley needed to generate some publicity. A lot of ideas were floated, but Bayley wanted more than the run-of-the-mill advertisements. He wanted something that would have the eyes of the nation on his Hacienda.

The winning idea wouldn’t come from Bayley or his advertising experts. Instead, slot machine mechanic Robert Timm approached his boss with a crazy thought. What if the Hacienda sponsored an attempt to grab the flight endurance record?

Warren Bayley might have scoffed at the idea if it wasn’t for one simple fact. Robert Timm wasn’t just a slot machine mechanic. He was also a former World War II fighter pilot.

Timm’s suggestion was simple, at least on paper. He would fly a plane, emblazoned with the Hacienda’s name on it, long enough to break the flight endurance record.

At the time, the record was a little under 47 days and had been set in 1949. Breaking such a record would undoubtedly gain the Hacienda all the publicity Bayley could dream of.

Intrigued, Warren Bayley agreed. Robert Timm could have his chance to break the flight endurance record. But the idea was easier said than done. If Robert Timm was going to snatch the record, he was going to need to do some serious work on his chosen plane.

The Cessna 172 Hacienda

Unsurprisingly, since the main goal was advertisement, the plane that Robert Timm chose would be named Hacienda. The veteran didn’t require a flashy fighter plane like the ones he had piloted during the war. Instead, he chose a Cessna 172.

The Cessna 172 was a newer plane, but one that was known to be steady and reliable. Equally as important, it was spacious as far as single-engine aircraft went. It was a two-seater, but that second seat would soon be discarded and replaced with a small mattress.

Modifications to the Hacienda extended far beyond a removed seat. A tiny sink and a camping toilet would be added. The interior would also be manipulated to allow the pilots to change the filter and oil mid-flight.

Most important was the refueling situation–for the plane and the pilots alike.

The original fuel tank would be pulled from the Cessna and swapped for a 92-gallon monster. This tank would be refilled from a fuel truck driven beneath the still-flying plane.

A retractable platform would be added for one of the pilots to stand on when it was time to refuel. From the platform, they would lower a winch, grab the refueling hose, and fill the enormous tank.

That all sounded easy enough, but how would they pull it off without landing?

The plane would be flown a mere 20 feet off the ground, usually along a straight road near Blythe, California. In order to make it work, they had to go as slow as possible without stalling.

Amazingly, Robert Timm and his co-pilot, John Cook, would accomplish this refueling feat 128 times.

This platform and winch system would also be used to feed and hydrate the pilots. To support their record-breakers, the staff at the Hacienda Hotel would prepare food for them. 

The food would be cut into pieces small enough to fit into jugs and pulled up to the cabin along with water.

With all the nitty-gritty details worked out, it was finally time to fly.

Robert Timm And John Cook’s Record-Breaking Flight

The Cessna 172 Hacienda, heavily modified but still solid, needed a few tries before the true two-month flight began.

Robert Timm would attempt to break the endurance flight record three times before he was successful. There were numerous factors as to why the first three tries failed, but there was one obvious change for the fourth. That change was John Cook.

Annoyed with his current co-pilot and the continued failures, Robert Timm dismissed his co-pilot. On the hunt for another, he found himself impressed by one of the mechanics working on his plane.

The man, John Wayne Cook, wasn’t just an aircraft mechanic–he was a pilot. When Timm asked him to join the mission, John Cook readily agreed.

Robert Timm (middle left) and John Cook (left), the two men who piloted the Hacienda.

The modified Cessna was incredible, and Robert Timm was supremely talented. But it was John Cook who was the final ingredient for success.

Cook’s wife would be quoted, “He always gave Bob the credit. But without John Cook there wouldn’t have been a flight.”

The Longest Flight In History

On December 4, 1958, Hacienda, piloted by Robert Timm and John Cook, set off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. After three failed attempts, onlookers were dubious about whether Timm and Cook could pull it off.

To keep them honest, two men drove beneath the plane in a Ford Thunderbird directly after takeoff. One of the men stood in his seat and painted the landing gear tires white. Now, one only had to look at the all-white tires to ascertain that the Hacienda hadn’t secretly landed.

For the first week or so, they stayed near Las Vegas just to make sure nothing catastrophic was wrong with the Cessna. As time passed, they gained confidence and began to expand their path.

It should have felt lonely, even with two of them, but the pilots had to be in constant communication with the ground crew. Even with the upgraded, oversized fuel tank, they still had to refill twice a day.

Most of the time they were on a pretty strict schedule. When the weather or other issues caused the schedule to go awry, they would make plans over the radio.

Weeks passed, and all was well. Christmas came and went, with Robert Timm tossing candy canes out of the Hacienda to his sons.

The men would bathe with a sponge on the retractable platform and take shifts sleeping–or trying to at least. The Cessna 172 was so loud that the men found it difficult to find rest, no matter how exhausted they became.

Despite both men being seasoned pilots, they couldn’t contend with the suffocating exhaustion. A little over halfway through their 64 days, Robert Timm dozed off during his shift. 

He slept for an hour in the pilot’s seat, the autopilot taking over and keeping them level. Had it not been for the autopilot, disaster would have surely occurred.

Slowly but surely, machinery within the Hacienda began to fail. No matter how reliable the plane was or how impressive the modifications were, it wasn’t meant to fly without stopping for so long.

John Cook would write in his journal, “We had lost the generator, tachometer, autopilot, cabin heater, landing, and taxi lights, belly tank fuel gauge, electrical fuel pump, and winch.”

The New Year rolled around, and by January 23, the previous endurance flight record of 47 days had been broken. 

They could have landed at any moment and been victorious, but still, the men continued to fly. They didn’t want a small margin of victory–they wanted a large one.

The Hacienda being refuelled midair. Photo via Reddit.

To pass the time, Robert Timm and John Cook would read, exercise, and play games. Both men kept a diary, and as the long days passed, their writing became more and more delirious. Even so, the Cessna 172 stayed in the sky.

Robert Timm And John Cook Come Home

By February 7, 1959, it had been quite some time since they had broken the record for the longest flight in history.

The Hacienda was filthy and struggling when the men decided to end their months-long journey. Carefully, they brought the plane down.

As they approached the runway, officials observed that the white paint on their tires was still intact. Robert and John had stayed aloft for 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes.

The exhausted pilots landed the equally tired plane at the same airport where they had taken off all those days ago.

Those waiting for them at McCarran Field welcomed them home with fanfare. The excitement was followed by much-needed helping hands to exit their temporary aircraft home.

What Is The Current Record For The Longest Flight Without Landing?

As of May 2024, it has been 64 years since Robert Timm and John Cook completed their legendary, record-breaking flight. With all the advancements in flight technology, surely that record has been broken?

Incredibly, Robert Timm and John Cook still hold the record for longest flight without landing.

The closest any plane has come to beating the record is the Airbus Zephyr 8. The unmanned high-altitude platform station aircraft managed 64 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes aloft.

Maybe one day, Timm and Cook’s unbelievable record will be broken, but their feat of endurance will never be forgotten.


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