Moye W. Stephens, Richard Halliburton
and the Flying Carpet
Reprinted in part from Tarpa Topics, April, 1996. The Retired Trans World Airline Pilot's Magazine.
Moye Stephens, pilot in cockpit, Richard Halliburton, Author/Writer with foot on the step of "The Flying Carpet," Stearman C-3B, NR882N
Moye W. Stephens one of TWA's original pilots, and Richard Halliburton, a very successful writer of adventure books, embarked on one of the most fantastic, extended air journeys ever recorded. Halliburton convinced Moye to be his pilot (and mechanic) for this extended trek which would include far off and seldom visited places throughout the world. It was just a simple handshake deal, no pay for Moye, but unlimited expenses.
Moye insisted the airplane be the open cockpit Stearman C3B with a J-5 Wright "Whirlwind" engine. Modifications included extra gas tanks and larger wheels. It had a range of about 800 miles cruising at 120 mph. Their first target was to cross the great Sahara Desert to the legendary city of Timbuctoo.
They began their trek on Christmas Day, 1930, by flying from LA to NYC. There were two emergency landings en route plus a delay for an unscheduled engine overhaul. The men and plane went by ship to London, where their flying began. However, on the leg to France there was a severe vibration problem in the flight controls and another lengthy delay. They then flew south via Spain to Gibraltar to Fez, where they crossed the Atlas Mountains and began the 1,700 mile flight to Timbuctoo. Maximum fuel would get them to a special gasoline supply furnished by the Shell Oil Company. They followed an old trail of ruts in the sand made by truck convoys and these were likely to be covered by drifting sand. A military truck made the trip every two weeks which would be the only possible rescue in case of an emergency. They carried a two week supply of food and water.
There was no itinerary planned as they recrossed the Sahara back to Madrid and then eastward to Angora, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Teheran. Then along the west coast of the Arabian Sea to India. When he felt in the mood, and this could last for several weeks, Halliburton would write chapters for his book.
There was a side trip flying the "hump" to Nepal, and then onward to Rangoon. In January, 1932 they spent three months in Singapore where Moye fitted the Stearman with pontoons. Then on to Sumatra and Dutch Borneo where they were welcomed by headhunters. They departed with a gift from the tribe chief of 150lbs of human heads. (They dared not refuse them.) Besides the added weight, they stunk and Moye threw them overboard as they flew on to Manilla, arriving during the tailend of a typhoon. In Manilla the plane was loaded aboard the USS McKinley and the trio sailed for San Francisco. At SFO the landing wheels were again installed for the final leg of their flight back to LA.
Among the perils they encountered was fog over the Alps, snow and hail in Persia and flying through a swarm of locusts north of Mindanao. Italian police arrested Halliburton for swimming in a Venice canal. They spent several weeks in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion. There was one occasion where Moye was demonstrating his acrobatic talent for the entertainment of local natives. He started a slow roll and suddenly stopped - Halliburton who was in the front cockpit had not fastened his seat belt.
They traveled 40,000 miles by air, Halliburton spent $50,000 for the trip, not including a $14,000 gas bill from Shell Oil Company. Royalties from his book, The Flying Carpet netted him over $100,000 the first year of issue.
Halliburton met a very untimely death while researching for a new adventure book in 1939. Apparently he was caught in a storm in the Pacific. He was on a raft while taking the "Slow Boat to China." It is known that he got a radio message out to a friend as his boat was sinking. In typical Halliburton style he simply said "Wish You Were Here."
Following his return, Moye had several aviation jobs which included test pilot with Lockheed. In 1938, John K. Northrop formed Northrop Aviation, Inc., and Moye was among the founders. He was Secretary on the Board of Directors and Chief Test Pilot. His special contributions were with the experimental and innovative "Flying Wing" bomber series. These included: The twin-engine NIM, first flown in 1940; the 4 engine XB-35 in 1946; and the eight (jet) engine XB-49 in 1947.