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July 7, 1924 map

A refueling stop in Persia.




September 28, 1924 map

The final leg of the trip.




Sinking of the Boston

The Boston sank when it was being towed after it had been forced to come down in the Atlantic Ocean.




Wreck of the Seattle

The Seattle was destroyed when it flew into a mountain in the fog.




Boston II joins two remaining original planes

The Boston II test plane joins the two remaining original planes for the last leg of the trip.




The Chicago

The Chicago was one of the two original planes to complete the trip.




End of round-the-world trip

Six months and six days after the round-the-world trip began, two of the original planes completed the lengthy trip.



The Douglas World Cruiser - Around the World in 175 Days

In 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. The War Department instructed the Air Service to look at both the Fokker F-5 Transport and the Davis-Douglas Cloudster to see if either one would qualify and to acquire one of these planes for a test.

When Douglas was asked for information on the Cloudster, he instead submitted data on a modified DT-2, the bomber that Douglas had built for the U.S. military in 1921 and 1922. This plane had already proved to be a sturdy aircraft that could accommodate interchangeable wheeled and pontoon landing gear. Since the basic plane already existed, Douglas stated that the new fleet of planes, which he named the Douglas World Cruiser, could be delivered within 45 days after a contract was awarded. The Air Service agreed and sent Lieutenant Erik Nelson, a member of the planning group, to California to work out the details with Douglas.

Douglas, assisted by John Northrop, began to modify a DT-2 to suit the Air Service requirements. The main modification involved its fuel capacity. All the internal bomb-carrying structures were removed and additional fuel tanks were added to various parts of the plane. The total fuel capacity went from 115 gallons (435 liters) to 644 gallons (3,438 liters).

Lieutenant Nelson took Douglas' proposal to Washington where General Mason M. Patrick, chief of the air service, approved it on August 1, 1923. The War Department awarded the contract to Douglas 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—the Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New Orleans—left Santa Monica, California, on March 17, 1924, for Seattle—the official start of the flight. On April 4, they left Seattle for Alaska. One plane—the Seattle—needed repairs and remained behind with its crew. When it was repaired and the crew attempted to catch up with the other three planes, it crashed into a mountaintop in the fog. The crew survived and was picked up, but the plane was destroyed.

The three remaining planes continued on their voyage. Avoiding the Soviet Union, which had not given permission for the planes to cross, they crossed Korea, the coast of China, Hong Kong, Indo-China, 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 pontoons.

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 test plane—named the 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). But whatever the actual distance, it was an impressive feat. The Douglas Company had earned the motto "First Around the World."

After the flight, Douglas' future was assured. Its next major achievement was the winning of the 1924 observation aircraft competition for the Air Service that was held at McCook Field. Douglas entered its Liberty-powered XO-2 and was awarded a contract in February 1925. It was the largest contract awarded to date by the War Department, initially calling for the production of 75 aircraft, which Douglas delivered in 1925 and 1926. These planes restored their normal 110-gallon (416-liter) fuel tanks. Some models also retained the interchangeable undercarriage and added twin machine guns. In all, the company built more than 50 versions of the observation plane totaling 778 observation biplanes for the U.S. military and another hundred for export. Some also served with pre-war National Guard units beginning in 1926 and others played an important role when the Army was given the job of carrying airmail in 1934.

—Judy Rumerman

References:

Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920. London: Putnam, 1979.

Morrison, Wilbur H. Donald W. Douglas – A Heart With Wings. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1991.

Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1 – DC-7. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1995.

On-Line References

"Douglas World Cruisers (DWC) Transport." http://www.boeing.com/history/mdc/dwc.htm

"World Flight Chronicle." http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/. World Flight Chronicle is a fictitious newspaper-style web document designed to add interest to the events surrounding the first round-the-world flight in 1924. Any similarity to an actual newspaper or newsletter is purely coincidental. Events reported in the World Flight Chronicle are true and drawn from primary and secondary sources and cited where appropriate. Historical fictionalization of stories is done purely to enhance readability.

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