circumnavigation of the world by air was conducted in 1924
by a team of aviators of the Army Air Service, the
precursor of the United States Air Force. The trip took
175 days, covering about 44,000 kilometres (27,000 miles).
Maj. Frederick Martin
piloted the Seattle and served as the flight
Though not an
organized race, in the early 1920s several countries were vying to
be the first to get an airplane around the world. In the
spring of 1923, the U.S. Army Air Service became interested in
having a squadron of military planes make a round-the-world
flight. It assigned a group of officers the job of finding a
suitable aircraft and planning the mission. The group first
looked at the existing pool of military planes but none of them was
satisfactory, so they began looking outside of the air service for a
plane that could be fitted with interchangeable wheeled landing gear
and also with pontoons for landing on water.
On August 1, 1923, the
War Department awarded the contract to Douglas Aircraft Company for
the construction of a single test plane. The test plane met
all its specifications, and a contract was awarded for four more
planes and spare parts. The last plane was delivered on March
11, 1924. The spare parts included 15 extra Liberty engines,
14 extra sets of pontoons, and enough replacement airframe parts for
two more planes. These were sent around the world along the
route the crews would follow.
Four planes - named
the Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New
Orleans - left Santa Monica, California, on March 17, 1924, for
Seattle, Washington, the location of the official start of the
flight. On April 6, they left Seattle for Alaska. One
plane, the Seattle, needed repairs and remained behind.
When it was repaired the crew attempted to catch up with the other
three planes, but on April 30, Seattle crashed in dense fog
on a mountainside near Port Moller on the Alaska Peninsula.
The crew survived and were picked up on May 10, but the plane was
The three remaining
planes continued on their voyage. Avoiding the Soviet Union,
which had not given permission for the planes to cross, they crossed
Japan, Korea, the coast of China, Hong Kong, French Indochina,
Thailand, Burma, and India, and proceeded into the Middle East and
then Europe. They arrived in Paris on July 14, Bastille
Day. They went from Paris to London and then the north of
England to prepare for their Atlantic Ocean crossing. Along
the way, they changed from pontoons to wheeled landing gear back to
On August 3, while
flying across the Atlantic, the Boston was forced to come
down, and capsized while being towed by the cruiser that had picked
up the crew. The two remaining planes crossed the Atlantic via
Iceland and Greenland and reached Canada. The original test plane,
now named Boston II, met them in Canada and the three
planes went on to Washington, D.C. After a hero's welcome, the three
planes flew to the West Coast, stopping briefly in Santa Monica and
finally landing in Seattle on September 28, 1924.
The trip had taken 175
days. Sources differ on whether they flew almost 29,000 miles
(46,671 kilometers) or 26,553 miles (42,733 kilometers). The Douglas
Aircraft Company adopted the motto "First Around the World –
First the World Around". The other national efforts had
all failed. The American team had greatly increased their
chances of success by making a much larger effort, with several
planes and pre-positioned support along the route.
Aircraft and Crew
Seattle, Maj. Frederick
Martin (pilot and flight commander) and SSgt. Alva Harvey (flight
Chicago, Lt. Lowell H. Smith
(pilot) and 1st Lt. Leslie Arnold
Boston, 1st Lt. Leigh P.
Wade (pilot) and SSgt. Henry H. Ogden
New Orleans, Lt. Erik Nelson
(pilot) and Lt. Jack Harding.