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Maj. Frederick Martin

First Aerial Circumnavigation of the World

The first circumnavigation of the world by air was conducted in 1924 by a team of aviators of the Army Air Service, the precursor of the United States Air Force. The trip took 175 days, covering about 44,000 kilometres (27,000 miles).

Maj. Frederick Martin piloted the Seattle and served as the flight commander.

Though not an organized race, in the early 1920s several countries were vying to be the first to get an airplane around the world.  In the 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.

On August 1, 1923, the War Department awarded the contract to Douglas Aircraft Company 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 - named the Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New Orleans - left Santa Monica, California, on March 17, 1924, for Seattle, Washington, the location of the official start of the flight.  On April 6, they left Seattle for Alaska.  One plane, the Seattle, needed repairs and remained behind.  When it was repaired the crew attempted to catch up with the other three planes, but on April 30, Seattle crashed in dense fog on a mountainside near Port Moller on the Alaska Peninsula.  The crew survived and were picked up on May 10, 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 Japan, Korea, the coast of China, Hong Kong, French Indochina, 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.

On August 3, while 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 original test plane, now named 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). The Douglas Aircraft Company adopted the motto "First Around the World First the World Around".  The other national efforts had all failed.  The American team had greatly increased their chances of success by making a much larger effort, with several planes and pre-positioned support along the route.

Aircraft and Crew

Seattle, Maj. Frederick Martin (pilot and flight commander) and SSgt. Alva Harvey (flight mechanic)

Chicago, Lt. Lowell H. Smith (pilot) and 1st Lt. Leslie Arnold

Boston, 1st Lt. Leigh P. Wade (pilot) and SSgt. Henry H. Ogden

New Orleans, Lt. Erik Nelson (pilot) and Lt. Jack Harding.