The "Stars and Stripes"
1928 Fairchild FC - 2W2

For an aircraft type that was not built in huge numbers, only 31 were built, it's had an extraordinary history. In its basic form, the FC-2W2 is a 5 to 7 place high wing cabin monoplane that was at home on wheels, floats, and skis. It was used as a robust bush plane in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, China, and even the South Pole. The extreme ruggedness of the aircraft can best be exemplified by examples of some of its uses.

A Pan American Airways division used the FC-2W2 with great success on its Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile route over the treacherous Andes mountains.

Another example was the 1928 model pictured above (N-13934, SN: 351) that was the first airplane owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), purchased new from the factory in 1928 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), predecessor to NASA.

The Fairchild helped the NACA quantify aspects of lift and drag research. For icing tests, a special airfoil section was mounted to the struts under the left wing where it was sprayed with water droplets in flight. For the next eight years, the FC-2W2 plied the skies for the NACA, operating out of Langley Field, Virginia. It is also the first airplane owned by the National Park Service in whose livery it is painted. At the time the Park Service owned the Fairchild it was based on North Carolina's Outer Banks and flown by Dave Driskill. Driskill, known at the "Re-discoverer of the Outer Banks," was also America's first licensed helicopter pilot. He flew the FC-2W2 on missions all over the Outer Banks area. He and the craft were very well known and liked by residents at the time. The famous old plane will be making appearances in the Kitty Hawk area again in 2003, returning to it's old stomping grounds after a 75 year absence. (This aircraft attended AirVenture 2001 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin - see picture below).

In Canada, much of the work to open up Canada's north in the 1920s and 1930s was performed by Fairchild FC-2s, 2Ws, and 2W-2s. FC-2W-2s flew Canada's first international passenger service between Montreal and New York. In 1928, two Canadian FC-2W-2s were the first to reach the Junkers W.33 Bremen, which had crashed in the Strait of Belle Isle after the first east-to-west Trans-Atlantic flight.

But by far the most well known example of this aircraft type is the famous "Stars and Stripes" currently residing at the Virginia Air Museum on loan from the Smithsonian. On January 15, 1929 the "Stars and Stripes" became the first aircraft to fly over Antarctica. "Stars and Stripes" was one of a complement of three aircraft Commander Richard Everett Byrd took with him on his first expedition to the bottom of the world. The other aircraft were a Fokker Universal, the "Virginia" and the Ford Trimotor "Floyd Bennett" which made the famous flight over the South Pole.

Among Byrd's achievements aboard the "Stars and Stripes" was the discovery of the heretofore unknown mountain range which he named after the Rockefellers. There was also the rescue of the "Virginia's" hapless crew after the Fokker was destroyed on the ground by high winds while out on a survey mission.

After a good deal of use mapping and exploring, it was put in deep freeze in the ice and was able to be thawed out and flown after sitting in the ice for five years. The "Stars and Stripes" then provided stalwart service throughout this expedition and the 1934 expedition setting out caches of fuel, food, equipment as well as flying scientific survey missions. When "Stars and Stripes" was shipped back to the United States. It had flown a total of 187 grueling Antarctic hours.

The aircraft was subsequently used by different owners as a barnstorming ship, a cropduster, photoship, and hangar queen. Fairchild eventually took ownership again and in 1962 donated "Stars and Stripes" to the Smithsonian.

Select the thumbnail to see a larger versions of each picture.

AeroFoil, A 2-d Airfoil Design And Analysis Program