The lost Michigan aviatrix

Flint, Michigan’s Mildred Doran had a tragic aviation story which in the end turned out just as mysterious as the more recognizable Amelia Earhart.

miss doran

The engine behind the rakish Ms. Doran is a 200hp Wright R-790 Whirlwind, the only one on her Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan that she (attempted) to make Hawaii in.

As noted by local historian Gary Flinn:

Doran, 22, taught fifth grade in Caro in the 1920s. A graduate of what is now Eastern Michigan University, Doran caught the aviation bug as many other aspiring fliers did after Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris.

She became a novice pilot after a few hours of flight experience, flying out of Lincoln Airport — an airstrip with a hangar at the southeast corner of South Saginaw and Maple roads in Grand Blanc Township.

The pretty, brown-haired schoolmarm (to use the old-fashioned term) found a sponsor for her flying in the airport’s owner, Lincoln Oil Co.

Doran (and a two man crew) was sponsored in the Dole Air Race (aka the Dole Derby) from California to Hawaii in 1927.

Dubbed the Miss Doran, the Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan, NC2915, was flown by John “Auggy” Pedlar, navigated by Naval Aviator Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, with Doran herself, who remember had a pilot’s license, listed only as “passenger.” This was still 1927, after all.

The crew of Miss Doran, left to right, John “Auggy” Pedlar, Mildred Doran and Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, United States Navy. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The crew of Miss Doran, left to right, John “Auggy” Pedlar, Mildred Doran and Lieutenant Vilas R. Knope, United States Navy. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The single-engined Buhl CA-5 has a range of 725~ miles.

It was a 2,400 mile flight to Honolulu and had never before had been crossed by a civilian airplane. (The first crossing, by an Army Atlantic-Fokker C-2 trimotor, the Bird of Paradise, crewed by 1st Lt. Lester J. Maitland and 1st Lt. Albert F. Hegenberger, had only been done that June in a feat for which the crew received the Mackay Trophy.)

From the San Franciso Museum

Almost all of them ran into grief of one sort or another.

“The pretty Mildred Doran had her share, but she smiled it all away. She was 22, a girl with hazel eyes, olive skin and dark curly hair, a Michigan State College graduate who had been teaching the fifth grate in Caro, Mich., until the Dole fever caught her.

Mildred wore five fraternity pins on her olive-drab flying suit, but when she was asked, she said she wasn’t in love. The boys who gave them to her were just dancing partners, Mildred said.”

Miss Mildred Doran “Life is nothing but a chance.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Miss Mildred Doran “Life is nothing but a chance.” Note the Lincoln Oil patch on her arm and the fraternity pins on her pocket. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The race was pretty tragic.

In the below newsreel from the time entitled, “Death Dogged the Dolebirds: Pioneer Pacific Fliers Wrote Tragic Chapter in Air History” you can get the gist from the title alone.

Looking at the numbers, 18 aircraft entered.

-3 cracked up before race day
-Only 8 made it off the ground the day of the race in front of a crowd of 100,000 persons
-2 soon crashed on take off
Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000 aircraft, NX869, made it to Hawaii 26 hours later to claim first prize
Aloha, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane, NX914, made it 28 hours later to pick up second.
-There was no third place winner, as the other aircraft, including Miss Doran, disappeared en route.

Miss Doran, Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan NX2915, takes off from Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Miss Doran, Buhl CA-5 Air Sedan NX2915, takes off from Oakland, California, 16 August 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

In the end, of the 15 men and one woman who took off that day in August 1927, 10 lost their lives.

A 42-ship task force never found a trace of the lost plane.

Vernon Dalhart, the first million-selling country and western recording artist, wrote and recorded a song, “The Fate of Mildred Doran” after her disappearance.

Pedlar-Doran-Krope Crew of Miss Doran

On January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California, reversing the route of the doomed Dole racers and likely flying near the watery grave of the Miss Doran at some point.


Back in Michigan, a gas station/memorial built by Lincoln Oil, the Doran Tower, was erected in Miss Doran’s memory. However, as Gary Finn notes, it changed hands, became a flower shop, and in 1973 was torn down and the land put up for sale.

It’s now a Dave’s Country Oven.

the sky pilot 1930s advertising

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