In the early 1920s, several countries wanted to circumnavigate the world by plane. While most of their attempts were in vain, on September 8, 1924, a team of aviators from the U.S. Army Air Service successfully flew around the world. It took them 175 days to complete the journey and make history.
Read on to learn about the first flight around the world.
How It All Began
In 1922, the first unsuccessful attempt to fly around the earth was made by a team of British pilots. After them, the French also tried and failed to complete this challenging journey. With time, many countries announced that they were planning to send pilots around the world. This piqued the American Air Service’s interest in the mission, and without wasting time, they formed a planning committee and began their search for the right plane to make history.
The Douglas World Cruisers
The committee inspected the Fokker T-2, an aircraft that can travel at a maximum speed of 150km/h and cover a range of about 4000 km. They also considered the Davis-Douglas Cloudster since it could accommodate two pilots in the cabin. Though both these flights had their strengths, the task force wanted additional features like interchangeable landing gears, the ability to do water landings, and so on.
Donald Douglas, the head of the Davis-Douglas Company, worked with Jack Northrop to build a plane that matched the circumnavigation requirements. They removed the internal bomb-carrying structure from a torpedo bomber DT-2 and made other modifications to increase the plane’s fuel capacity. This new aircraft had no radios nor avionics of any sort; the crew had to rely entirely on their dead reckoning skills to navigate the journey. They named it the Douglas World Cruiser.
The Flight Around the World
On March 17, 1924, four Douglas World Cruisers named the Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New Orleans left Santa Monica, California, for Seattle, Washington. They took off for Alaska—their first goal—on April 4. Unfortunately, the lead airplane, Seattle, had technical problems, forcing them to stay behind. The remaining three teams, led by the plane, Chicago, continued their route across the North Pacific, making sure to avoid the Soviet Union since they did not grant permission for aircraft to cross their territory. The plan was to fly through Korea, Japan, Thailand, India, continuing their way to the Middle East.
While crossing present-day Vietnam, the plane, Chicago, had to land because of technical problems. After the repairs were done, the crew continued their tour towards Europe. In July, they reached Paris and prepared to cross the Atlantic Ocean through England. Unfortunately, The Boston sank while flying across the ocean. But luckily, the crew survived, and the other two planes—the Chicago and the New Orleans—continued the journey.
After several challenges, the first world flight was completed on September 28, 1924, when they arrived back in Seattle. The flight was one of the greatest milestones in aviation and gave the Douglas Aircraft Co. its motto, “First Around the World.”
At Fly-Rite Pilot Education, we are passionate about aviation and aviation weather and want to share that passion with pilots. Contact us to learn more about our simple but thorough Preflight Weather courses.