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Dwight “Barney” Zimmerley


Dwight Zimmerley, of Cogswell, North Dakota, set a non-stop flight world record on this date in 1929, flying a Barling NB-3 light aircraft solo 1,725 miles across North America, from Brownsville, Texas, to Winnipeg, Canada.

Zimmerley was the chief pilot and instructor for the Marshall Flying School, the largest civilian flight school in the world. The school, based out of Marshall, Missouri, was run by the Nicholas-Beazley Airplane Company. It offered lessons for $10.00 an hour in “regular, stunt, and fancy flying.” While working at the school, Zimmerley trained nearly 2,800 pilots to fly Nicholas-Beazley aircraft. He also set many altitude, distance, endurance, and efficiency records in the light planes.

In 1929, he set out to conquer the world distance record by flying from Texas to Winnipeg. Leaving Brownsville around 1 a.m., he flew in pitch darkness for five hours before seeing any sign of land below. Then, through a break in the clouds, he made out the town of Wilson, Oklahoma; the sky cleared and, flying at 105 miles an hour, Zimmerley was able to hold his altitude of 3,000 feet. When he reached his hometown of Cogswell around 4 in the afternoon, Zimmerley dropped a note from the plane telling of his location. Seven miles later, he dropped a second note over his wife’s hometown of Stirum. Both notes were retrieved by local residents, who were awaiting word on Zimmerley’s flight.

At that point, nearly fifteen hours in, Zimmerley knew he had broken the distance record, but had no idea how much fuel remained in his tanks, having no fuel gauge. He hoped for the best, and, an hour later, landed safely at the Winnipeg air field. In Winnipeg, Zimmerley was treated to “…one round of entertainment after another,” and was made an honorary member of the Winnipeg Flying Club. He was honored with receptions and parades there, and also in Brownsville, Cogswell, and Marshall.

Although Zimmerley continued to teach and fly, the Marshall Flying School was struck hard by the Depression and went out of business during the 1930s. Zimmerley’s achievements survived however, and are celebrated today by a permanent exhibit at the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum in Marshall, Missouri, that includes the record-setting NB-3 plane he flew in 1929.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

Sources: (Wright, Anita. “Building the Vision: the Continued Adventures of Barney Zimmerley,” Marshall Democrat-News, Wed. Jan. 10, 2007: 1) (Ganey, Terry. “Wings over Mid-Missouri: Marshall Museum Celebrates Town’s Role in Aviation’s Early Years,” Columbia Daily Tribune, Sun Aug 30, 2009: 1)