On September 28, 1924, the first successful circumnavigation of the earth by plane was achieved, when after the 175 days journey a team of aviators of the United States Army Air Service landed again in Seattle.
The U.S. were not the only ones longing for the first aerial circumnavigation. Already in the 1920s several countries started their preparations. The first attempt was accomplished by British pilots in 1922 and only one years later, the French tried the same thing. When more and more countries announced that they were planning on sending teams of pilots around the planet, the American Air Service gained interest as well. Quickly, a planning group was announced and the search for a suitable plane began. At first, the Fokker T-2 aircraft was observed, it would achieve a maximum speed of 150km/h and a maximum range of about 4000km. The next plane was the Davis-Douglas Cloudster, which had the advantage of fitting two pilots in the cabin, but the task force looked for more options like interchangeable landing gears, the ability of water landings and so on.
Donald Douglas was responsible for designing and building aircraft as head of the Davis-Douglas Company. His goal was to construct a plane able to achieve a coast to coast non stop flight across the United States. Unfortunately, his attempts failed, but still he was asked to show the construction plans of the Cloudster. Instead, he sent plans for a torpedo bomber, which fit into the Army’s plans perfectly. He named the new plane Douglas World Cruiser (DWC), adjusted the air craft to all of the War Department’s expectations and delivered the DWCs in spring 1924.
Start of the adventure was Seattle, Washington in April, 1924 and their first goal was Alaska. Unfortunately the first problems already began. The lead airplane was named Seattle and had technical problems, which forced them to stay behind. When they tried to catch up later in April, the plane crashed into a mountain at Alaska. The crew survived but the craft was totaled. The remaining three teams were now led by the plane Chicago and they continued their route across the North Pacific but avoiding the Soviet Union which did not give their permission for the aircrafts to cross their territory. The following goals were Korea, Japan, Thailand, India, continuing their way to the Middle East.
Again, the Chicago had to land due to technical problems, this time in present day Vietnam. The repairs took place in Hue and the crew continued their adventure towards Europe. They reached Paris in July and prepared for the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in England. Another airplane was taken down while flying across the ocean. The Boston sank while the crew survived and the journey continued with only two planes left, the Chicago and the New Orleans. Another plane, the Boston II joined them in the Nova Scotia area and together they headed to Washington DC. The journey was completed on September 28, 1924 when they arrived back at Seattle. During their trip, the pilots flew 44085 km, took 175 days, the plane’s engines were changed five times and equipped with new wings twice.
The aircraft were brought to museums across the country and even the crashed Seattle was recovered and is today displayed in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
At yovisto, you may enjoy a historical video on the first circumnavigation by airplane in 1924.
References and Further Reading:
- Chasing the Sun: Douglas Aircraft
- Chuck Roberts. Magellans of the sky: lessons learned from the epic 1924 around the world flight are visible in today’s Air Force, but the memory of those who made it possible have faded with the years
- Fliers At Seattle End World Flight of 27,000 Miles. The New York Times, 28 September 192
- Stephen Sherman. Charles Kingsford Smith: First to Fly Across the Pacific. acepilots.com, 16 April 2012
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