Around the World Flight
William a. Moffett, chief of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics,
announced May 6, 1923, that NAS Seattle would be the starting and
finishing point for the first United States flight circling the world.
.....At that time, NAS Seattle was a primitive
path hacked through dense woods and undergrowth, with a mud and grass
strip that was far from world class. The admiral was not dismayed by
mere difficulties. By the end of the year he had dispatched Lt. Theo
Koenig and an attack squadron to the base. Landing lights and a wind
sock were placed on the landing field by the time Lt. Koenig arrived to
test the facilities.
.....The admiral worked from two agendas: he
wanted the United States to mount the first around-the-world flight. He
also wanted a base in the Pacific Northwest for his beloved
lighter-than-air airships. Sand Point, he reasoned, could be both.
.....The field at Sand Point was so muddy that
it was unusable during much of the rainy season. Government funds were
in short supply, and it wasn't until Clarence Blethan, of the family
that owned the Seattle Times, wrote a check for $500 that piping and
ditching of the field was completed.
.....The Times trumpeted on March 16, 1924, "Seattle's
bravest pilots were flying huge bird ships up the coast from Los
Angeles to land at Sand Point." Huge crowds swarmed around the four
planes after they landed at Sand Point March 20.
.....During the next two weeks the four Douglas
world cruisers were outfitted, the crews were prepared, and floats
replaced wheels. Boeing Co. crews did much of the conversion. Among the
Boeing crew assigned to the project were Les Hubble and Mike Pavone.
Pavone now restores airplanes at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
was Army Maj. Frederick L.
Martin, a skilled pilot and head of an Army Signal Corps aerial
technical school. He flew with Sgt. Alva Harvey in the flagship of the
fleet, the Seattle.
The New Orleans
was piloted by the only naturalized citizen on the expedition, Lt. Eric
Nelsen, originally from Sweden. His co-pilot was Lt. John Harding, of
Nashville, Tenn. Lt. Lowell Smith was the pilot of the Chicago
with Lt. Leslie Arnold as co-pilot. Smith
was a direct descendent of Daniel Boone, and had flown against Pancho
Villa in Mexico. He had flown the first plane ever to have been
refueled in flight.
Maj. Frederick Martin commanding officer of the around-the-world
flight, congradulates Lt. Lowell Smith of the Chicago.
Boston was piloted by Lt. Leigh Wadem with Sgt. Henry Ogden as
co-pilot. Nelsen and Harding later joined the Boeing Co.
Supply parties had already provisioned bases all along the route: spare
450 hp Liberty engines (an engine then only lasted about 100 operating
hours), fuel, food, clothing and a host of other vital materials.
.....Three of the planes lifted off on schedule
April 7, 1924. The fourth made several attempts, but could not get off
the water. It returned to the beach, and several extra (and
unauthorized) boxes of tools and a case of Scotch were removed. the
pilot then launched, and caught up with the flight before Prince Rupert.
.....The Seattle damaged a fuel tank, and spent a night
drifting around a dark bay before daylight allowed repairs. They
stopped in Sitka for engine work, and then attempted the leg to Dutch
Harbor. The Seattle crashed in the rugged mountains of the
island chain stretching out from the Alaska mainland where Martin and
Harvey struggled for ten days to walk out. For them the flight was
over, but Lt. Smith took over as flight commander under orders of Gen.
M.M. Patrick and the three pushed on to Attu.
.....Weather dictated their next stop, and they
landed at Komandorskies in the Soviet Union. The United States had not
recognized the U.S.S.R. then, and the party was not well received. The
fliers spent the night on an Alaska Fisheries Bureau boat and left
early the next morning. Japan was different, with an extravagant
reception and honors.
.....The flight to Indochina was uneventful,
but the fliers -- to make up for lost time -- made a daring crossing of
the Southeast Asian peninsula and on to Allahabad, India.
.....They winged over the deserts of the Middle
East, to huge celebrations in Paris and London.
.....Near-tragedy struck on the Atlantic
crossing: the Boston was forced down and lost off Iceland.
Both members of the crew were rescued, and they changed to the Boston
II upon landing in Nova
.....The landing at Boston was gigantic,
matched by the crowd at Long Island where the six were met by the
President of the United States and the Prince of Wales.
.....They took the long path back across the
United States, stopping in major cities in a hopscotch pattern from
east to west. The flight ended in Seattle Sept. 28, 1924, with
the three surviving planes touching down at Sand Point.
The expedition covered 26,345 miles in 363 hours and seven minutes.
Average flight speed was only 72 mph.
estimated at 50,000 met them at Sand Point. A huge parade through
Seattle followed. A marker was placed on the station in October,
commemorating the first global flight.