Say “Smith Reynolds” around here and most people see a headline in their minds, something like “Smith Reynolds Dead in Mysterious Shooting at Reynolda”. That carries a lot of extra baggage, all of it negative.

But what if we substitute another headline, just a few years after Lucky Lindy flew the Atlantic and a few months before your imaginary headline, which says “Twenty Year Old Boy Flies 17,000 Miles Solo From London to Hong Kong”? Would you read that story? Think you could have managed that at age twenty?


Click the image for much larger size

Well, here is that story. Zachary Smith Reynolds, named for his grandfather, Zachary Smith of Mt. Airy, who was named for his near ancestor, U.S. President Zachary Taylor, was born in 1911, the youngest of four children of Richard Joshua and Katharine Smith Reynolds.


His father died before he started school and his mother remarried a few years later. His older brother, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., “Dick”, moved north to New York in the 1920s, eventually paying $1 million dollars for Curtiss Field on Long Island, one of the most important airports in the world at the time.

Smith idolized his older brother, so soon became consumed with the new phenomenon known as aviation. As a teenager, he became the youngest licensed commercial pilot in the world. That document was signed by the legendary Orville Wright. At age 19, he set a record for the fastest coast to coast flight from New York to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he forgot to arrange for documentation at both ends of the flight, so his record went unrecognized. That was not really a big deal to Smith. His aviation feats were more about seeing if he could do something than about any records.


Winston-Salem Journal, June 22, 1930, front page

Then he began planning a truly epic flight. He would take off from London and fly to Hong Kong, thus spanning the length of the mighty British Empire. Only a handful of pilots in those days knew celestial navigation. Smith was not one of them. And there were no navigational aids available anywhere.


Smith’s Savoi Marchetti parked at Miller Field, Winston-Salem, 1931

Smith bought an Italian amphibious airplane, a Savoia Marchetti S56c. The week before Christmas, 1931, he took off from London and headed for  Le Bourget airfield near Paris, where Lindbergh’s famous flight had ended.

He got lost on the way, and landed near a French village, where locals were able to direct him to Le Bourget. Departing from there, he used a variety of “navigational aids”…road maps, railway maps, rivers, coastlines, telegraph lines, etc. He flew across some of the least charted land in the world.

In April, 1932, he arrived at a French outpost called Fort Bayard near the western coast of the Pacific Ocean. After some fairly complicated reconnaissance, he finished his trip by landing in Hong Kong harbor.

It was the longest point to point solo flight ever completed at the time, 17,000 miles. There had been several claims of circumnavigation of the Earth at the time. The first was made in 1924 by a team of four US Army Air Service Douglas World Cruiser seaplanes, each with two crew members. The Army planes island hopped across the Pacific via the Aleutian Islands to Russia, the Kurile Islands and Japan. Their Atlantic crossing included northern Britain, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador. They lost two aircraft and two crewmen along the way.


The four US Army Air Service Douglas World Cruisers above Seward, Alaska, 1924. They had dozens of US, British and Canadian naval vessels in support, plus spare part depots with trained mechanics at strategic point along the way. Click the image for a much larger size.

Friedrich Karl von Koenig-Warthausen is often credited with the first solo circumnavigation in 1928-29, but his plane rode on a ship from Siam to China and Japan and across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…his total flying mileage was considerably less than that of Smith Reynolds. The first legitimate solo circumnavigation was achieved by Wiley Post in 1933. He had an autopilot and a radio beacon finder and flew about 1,500 milks fewer than Smith had.


Baron Koenig-Warthausen, 1929. The cat, Tinnin, was presented to him in Siam and made the rest of the journey back to Berlin with him…maybe as co-pilot?


Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, Roscoe Turner, Laura Ingalls

Smith then discovered that the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC was planning an extraordinary first…the mapping of the vast Indian Ocean from the air. He wanted to be a part of that. but was told by the society that he would need to know celestial navigation and other advanced aspects of the fast developing modern aviation. So he went to Columbia University in New York and enrolled in their aviation program for the fall of 1932.

In early July, one of his best friends, Charles Gideon Hill, was celebrating his 21st birthday. Smith and his wife, the famous torch singer Libby Holman, threw a wild party for C.G. at the boat house on Lake Katharine at their home, Reynolda. Something happened after the party ended. Smith was shot. By morning he was dead.

His sister Nancy Susan was devastated. A few months later she privately published an edition of her brother’s flight log from London to Hong Kong. Many of the images in this post come from that book.


The North Carolina Room’s copy of the book is number 10 of 31 original copies, published in 1932. Our copy originally belonged to Kate Bitting Reynolds, the wife of William Neal Reynolds, R.J. Reynolds’ youngest brother and Smith’s aunt. It is signed by Smith’s sister, Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley.


In 2007, Reynolda House published a sort of facsimile of the book. It substitutes a black and white version of the original color map of Smith’s journey, but it also contains a good bit of extra information about Smith and his voyage. The title of the book is Log of Aeroplane NR -898W


In 2007, Reynolda House put up an exhibit featuring a full sized original 1930 Savoi Marchetti S56c…one of my all-time favorite Reynolda house events…

The images below are all scans from the original book Log of Aeroplane NR -898W in the North Carolina Room Collection. For many years it was merely shelved in our locked case area…it has now been scanned and is stored in an acid free container in accordance with accepted archival practice.




First page of log


Actual log page, maintained on a standard writing pad