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28 September 2008

On this day in history: First flight around the world, 1924

In 1923 the United States' Army Air Service decided to join the race to be the first to fly an aircraft around the world. Finding that none of their existing fleet were suitable for the task, the group of officers charged with organising the attempt received instructions from the War Office to evaluate the Fokker F-5 and the Davis-Douglas Cloudster. Rather than send details about the Cloudster, Donald Douglas chose to submit information about a modified version of the DT-2 torpedo bomber, called the Douglas World Cruiser, which the Air Service selected.

Douglas delivered a modified a World Cruiser with over five and a half times the original fuel capacity to the Air Service for testing. The aircraft met all the requirements and Douglas received an order for four more planes, the last of which arrived with the Air Service in March 1924. Douglas also delivered spare parts that were transported to various points along the proposed route for the flight.

On 6th April 1924, four World Cruisers — called the Boston, the Chicago, and the New Orleans — took to the air from Seattle, Washington for Alaska on the first leg of the attempt. A fourth plane — ironically called the Seattle — needed repairs and later set off to try to catch up with the other aircraft; however, it crashed into an Alaskan mountainside due to dense fog. Fortunately, the crew survived.

The remaining three planes continued on their journey, avoiding Russian air space because the Soviets had not given them permission to fly over their country. After flying across East Asia and the Middle East, the aircraft arrived in Paris on Bastille day (14th July). They then set off across the Atlantic via London and the north of England; however, on 3rd August the Boston had to land on the water (the planes were fitted with floats for the legs that crossed over large bodies of water) but it capsized while being towed by the ship that rescued the crew.

The Chicago and the New Orleans continued across the Atlantic landing at Iceland and Greenland. When they arrived in Canada they were joined by the test plane for the remaining legs that took them to Washington D.C. and Santa Monica, California, before returning to Seattle on 27th September 1924. The two crews — pilot Lt. Lowell Smith and 1st Lt. Leslie Arnold of the Chicago, and pilot Lt. Erik Nelson and Lt. Jack Harding of the New Orleans — had travelled over 25,000 miles in 175 days.

To learn more see C.V. Glines' article 'Around the World' on the Air Force Magazine Online site.


L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

Wow I didnt realize that the first around the world expedition happened as late as 1923. Do you know when commercial airlines started operating?

Excellent post.

Borkiman said...

The first airline was DELAG that flew Zeppelins from 1909. The first commercial airline to use planes was probably the British Aircraft Transport and Travel company that started operating in 1916.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

WHY is Seattle listed as the beginning of the first around the world flight? I always understood they were built just down Wilshire Blvd. at Douglas park and took off from Clover Field (now called Santa Monica Airport.) In fact, there's a brass plaque telling about the whole adventure.

Anyway, I'm about to paint a picture featuring the takeoff from Santa Monica - NOT Seattle.

Borkiman said...

SJK: Indeed the aircraft were built in Santa Monica, but the official start (and end) of the flight was Seattle.

I also notice that the link to C.V. Glines' article was no longer working. I have now updated it.