Today, we circle the earth. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Lindbergh made his famous
flight across the Atlantic in 1927. So, when did we
finally manage to fly all the way around the world?
The answer is, three years before
Lindbergh -- in 1924.
The Army Air Service took on the project, and the
way they went at it almost makes us think of NASA's
lunar program. Douglas Aircraft Company was
commissioned to create four special biplanes: the
Boston, the New Orleans, the
Chicago, and the Seattle. They
had a 450-horsepower Liberty engine, and these big
airplanes could carry enough fuel for a
twenty-two-hundred-mile flight. They could be
fitted with either pontoons or wheels.
They used the flight from Santa Monica to Seattle
as a shake-down trip while the Army equipped supply
depots all around the world. The official flight
began on April sixth. They headed up the Canadian
coast toward Alaska, stopping at Prince Rupert,
Sitka, Chignik, and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian
The Seattle suffered minor damage in its
first landing. Then its engine had to be replaced.
Finally it crashed in West Alaska. The pilot and
copilot survived the first night by burning the
wings as fuel and huddling in the baggage
compartment. They eventually managed to walk to the
Bering Sea, where a cargo ship rescued them.
From Attu, the remaining fliers meant to go to
Kamchatka Peninsula. But the newly-formed Soviet
Union wouldn't permit it; Russia itself was
struggling to set flight distance records. So the
three airplanes continued to Japan's Kurile
Islands. They reached Tokyo on the forty-ninth day.
But they had, technically, been the first people to
fly the Pacific.
From there they went on to Saigon, Bangkok,
Rangoon. At Calcutta they switched from pontoons
back to wheels. They replaced all three engines in
Karachi. Baghdad, Aleppo, Constantinople,
Bucharest, Vienna, Paris, and, finally, London. Now
they had to cross the Atlantic -- against
After a stop in the Orkney Islands, the
Boston crash-landed near the Farole
Islands and sank in the rescue attempt. The New
Orleans and the Chicago continued to
Iceland, then Greenland, where they again replaced
their engines. They reached the mainland at Icy
Tickle, Labrador, and then flew down eastern Canada
The trip ended with a triumphal tour of America.
They reached Seattle on September 28, 1924. It'd
taken 175 days, but their time in the sky had
totaled only fifteen days. Their average flying
speed was seventy miles an hour. But their overall
speed for the twenty-seven-thousand- mile odyssey
had been only six miles an hour. They
could've done it much faster in a sailing ship.
All eight pilots survived, and you can see the two
surviving airplanes today in Dayton's Air Force
Museum and in the National Air and Space Museum. I
suppose it all goes to show just how hard it really
is to be first at anything.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Holland, R. S., Historic Airships.
Philadelphia: Macrae-Smith Company, 1928, Chapter
XVI, "Around the World".
For a complete leg-by-leg and day-by-day account of
the round-the-world flight, see:
See also the web site:
The Douglas DWC Chicago (Image courtesy of the National Air And Space
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2002 by John H.