Various countries were racing to be the first to fly around the globe in the 1920s. The U.S. Army Air Service was eager to be the first to lay claim after witnessing failed attempts by other nations. Passionate and determined, they formed the World Flight Committee and would ultimately enlist the help of other organizations- including the Navy and Coast Guard Services.
The Davis-Douglas company modified a DT-2 torpedo bomber to meet the needs of a circumnavigational flight. These included adding extra fuel storage, and retro-fitting the aircraft with the ability to switch between wheels or pontoon floats depending on the landing requirements. Lacking radios and avionics, the crew would rely solely on their experience and skills to navigate their worldly adventure.
The company would ultimately create four modified DT-2 aircraft for the mission. General Mason Patrick, chose four pilots who completed a six-week course. After obtaining permission from countries around the world (required to cross three oceans and five seas) the world waited to see who would be the first to cross the finish line.
On April 6, 1924, the four aircraft- The Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and the New Orleans left Seattle for Alaska. Soon after, the Seattle encountered engine problems and later, after receiving repairs, would crash in Alaska. The crew survived 10 days in the wilderness before being rescued. The three remaining aircraft ventured onto Japan.
Meanwhile, the British had taken to the skies 13 days before the Americans had set off. Unfortunately, the U.K. crew crashed in Burma and were unlikely to finish their quest. The Americans, wishing to see them continue, shipped a plane to their location, allowing them to pursue Britain’s efforts to be first. Their attempt ended a couple of months later when they made a forced landing in the Bering Sea. Thankfully the crew was rescued but the aircraft was too badly damaged to continue.
The Americans pressed on as the Portuguese, Italians, Argentinians, and Parisians were among the other nations pursuing this global endeavor. Their flight continued until the Chicago experienced engine problems near Vietnam and was towed to and repaired in Hue. Later, the New Orleans would sputter into Karachi, Pakistan, where all three aircraft received new engines.
Now, more than halfway through their journey, the Boston would experience oil pump failure forcing them to make a rough landing near Scotland. The Chicago flew ahead and dropped a message on the supporting Navy cruiser the USS Richmond. The crew was unharmed but the aircraft in tow ultimately sank.
Engines were replaced in the remaining two aircraft in Greenland in preparation for their longest stretch over the Atlantic. They would be accompanied by five U.S. Naval vessels along the route.
Four hours before arriving in Canada the Chicago experienced fuel pump failure. One of the crew members kept the aircraft operational by hand-pumping fuel before landing. The original crew of the Boston joined them and the proto-type Boston II arrived so they could resume the remainder of the flight with the others.
They were greeted as heroes at the Nation’s capital and in California- where they received another engine swap. The team of aviators would land back in Seattle 175 days after departing. Making history as the first team of aviators to circumnavigate the globe.
Twenty-five years later the first non-stop flight around the globe would be achieved in a Boeing B-50 taking just under 4 days.
Today we think nothing of hopping on a flight to cross the Atlantic to Europe- back then it was considered treacherous. Circumnavigating the globe was considered an extreme accomplishment. In the last 100 years what humans have achieved in flight and aerospace technology are nothing short of spectacular.