September 28th, 1924 – First Flight Around the World


On April 4th, 1924, four aircraft, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New Orleans, left Santa Monica, California for Sand Point, Washington, near Seattle, Washington, the official start of the journey their trip around the globe . . . but which ones made it back to the USA on September 28th, 1924?


On April 6th, 1924, they left Seattle for Alaska. After reaching Prince Rupert Island, the lead aircraft Seattle, flown by Maj. Frederick Martin with SSgt. Alva Harvey (the only fully qualified mechanic in the flight), needed repairs and remained behind. When it was repaired, the crew attempted to catch up with the other three aircraft, but on April 30th, Seattle crashed in dense fog into a mountainside near Port Moller, Alaska on the Alaska Peninsula. The crew survived and were picked up on 10 May 10th, but the aircraft was destroyed.

The three remaining aircraft continued, with Chicago flown by Lt. Smith and 1st Lt. Arnold, assuming the lead. Taking off from the Aleutian Islands, the flight traveled across the North Pacific archipelago. Avoiding the Soviet Union, which had not given permission for the expedition to cross into their airspace, 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.

During the mission, due to a broken connecting rod, the Chicago was forced to land in a lagoon off the Gulf of Tonkin in French Indochina (now Vietnam). The aircraft was considered a novelty in this region of the world, so missionary priests supplied the pilots with food and wine and locals climbed aboard the pontoons to see the biplane. The other flyers searching for the Chicago by boat found the crew sitting on the wing in the early morning hours. Three paddle powered sampans with local crews towed the aircraft for 10 hours, and 25 miles (40 km), to the city of Hue, where repairs were effected. “[T]he fastest – and undoubtedly the first – engine change that had ever been made in Indochina.” Misfortune was again to strike the Chicago as later in the mission, while inspecting the aircraft in Calcutta, Smith slipped and broke a rib but insisted on completing the mission.

The flight arrived in Paris on Bastille Day, July 14th. From Paris the aircraft flew to London and on to the north of England in order to prepare for the Atlantic Ocean crossing.


The trip had taken 175 days, and covered 27,553 miles (44,342 km). The Douglas Aircraft Company adopted the motto, “First Around the World – First the World Around”.

On August 3rd 1924, while flying across the Atlantic, Boston was forced down. The Chicago was able to contact a navy destroyer and dropped a note about the troubled aircraft, tied to the Chicago’s only life preserver. While being towed by the U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Richmond that had picked up the crew, the Boston capsized and sank. The Chicago with Lt. Lowell Smith and 1st Lt. Leslie Arnold still in the lead, and the New Orleans, with Lt. Erik Nelson and Lt. Jack Harding, continued and crossed the Atlantic via Iceland and Greenland and reached Canada. The original prototype, now named Boston II, reunited with the Boston’s crew, Lt. Leigh Wade (pilot) and SSgt. Henry Ogden, met them in Pictou, Nova Scotia, and the three aircraft flew on to Washington DC. After a hero’s welcome in the capital, the three Douglas World Cruisers flew to the West Coast, on a multi-city tour, stopping briefly in Santa Monica and finally landing in Seattle on 28 September 1924.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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