This Day in History (6-Apr-1924) – 4 planes leave Seattle on 1st successful around-the-world flight

One of the most sensational avation event was the Air Service round-the-world flight in 1924. Four Douglas World Cruiser airplanes departed Seattle, Washington, on April 6, 1924, heading westward for Asia via Alaska, piloted by Major Frederick Martin,Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith, 1st Lieutenant Leigh P. Wade and Lieutenant Erik Nelson. The airplanes were specially equipped with wheel landing gear that could be changed depending on the location, and were also especially equipped with pontoons. In preparation for the flight, the United States Navy delivered thirty spare engines to various places around the world. The Navy, with the help of Royal Air Force, delivered thousands of gallons of fuel to various places around the world, before the flight commenced.

The planes encountered the worst type of flying weather — excessive head winds, rain, ice, snow and fog. The fourth airplane, the Seattle, crashed into a mountain on April 30 while flying through fog, near Port Moller, Alaska.  Crew was declared lost, however, Martin and Sgt. A.L. Harvey, were uninjured and walked to safety after 10 days. By May 9, three airplanes had reached Attu Island in the Aleutians, Alaska. They continued on, changing back and forth from pontoons to wheels as determined by whether they were to be flying over land or water. The planes traveled to Japan, before arriving in Southeast Asia, India, England before finally arriving in Ireland. By Aug. 3, they were heading for Iceland from the British Isles when the Liberty engine in the Boston lost all oil pressure, and the plane was forced to land at sea. Unfortunately, high waves damaged the Boston excessively and it had to be sunk.

The New Orleans and the Chicago continued westward, arriving in Nova Scotia  and where the original prototype DWC, named the Boston II, joined them for the remainder of the flight. The three planes reached Seattle on Sept. 28, 1924, completing an aerial trip of approximately 26,000 miles in 6 months and 371 hours flying time. For their tremendous achievement in flying around the world, the World Flyers were awarded the coveted Mackay Trophy for 1924.


This Day in History (3-Apr-1933) – The Marquis of Clydesdale Leads the First Flight Over Mount Everest

Although primitive by today’s standards, the planes selected to fly over Mount Everest were a marvel of its day, with its supercharged Pegasus engine capable of soaring above 40,000 feet.  The two biplanes had only rudimentary oxygen equipment and enough fuel on board for no more than 15 minutes flying time over the treacherous mountain.  The lead aircraft was equipped with a fully automated Eagle III Williamson aerial camera to take the first images of the roof of the world. On the morning of April 3, 1933 flights took off from Lalbalu airstrip in the Indian state of Bihar, at about 8:30 a.m.

Chilled to the bone at an altitude of 31,000 feet, lead pilot Clydesdale maneuvered through the mountain range despite challenging downdrafts. Approaching Mount Everest, he realized he was off course: his PV-3 and the chase plane were on the wrong side of the peak. Battling powerful air currents, Clydesdale managed to guide the aircraft just over the top of the mountain range. The second crew, led by David McIntyre at the controls of a weaker Westfield Wallace airframe, scraped over behind him. Mount Everest was now dead ahead. Boosted by an upward draft of air, both pilots pushed the Pegasus engines to full power and soared past their objective. Clydesdale saw the top of Everest with his bare eyes, but the camera hadn’t delivered usable photos—dust problems, apparently.

Sixteen days later, on April 19, in a magnificent act of insubordination, they made another run. They cleared the summit again, noting the plume of snow streaming from Everest’s crest. And this time they got good pictures.

The benefits of the mission spread across a number of industries. Meteorologists learned a vast amount about the behavior of the environment at such altitudes and geographers gained an appreciation for the chiseled peak of Mount Everest (finally conquered in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay). Even watchmakers, noticing how well the timepieces functioned, could claim a victory. Above all, though, the men inadvertently proved the need for pressurized cabins at high altitudes, a major factor in air travel to this day.