U.S. Army Air Service airplanes land at Sand Point Aerodrome to complete the first flight around the world on September 28, 1924.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 1/17/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 364
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On September 28, 1924, two U.S. Army Air Service airplanes complete the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe when they land at Sand Point Aerodrome shortly after 1:30 p.m. They are joined by a third plane, a replacement for one that was lost enroute. Despite multiple trials and tribulations – including the crash of a fourth plane that originally was part of the flight – there are no serious injuries on the journey. The trip lasts nearly six months, covers more than 26,000 miles, and is considered a feat for the ages. An audience of at least 40,000 is at Sand Point to witness the homecoming.

The Planes and Crews

Four planes took off from Sand Point on Sunday morning, April 6, 1924. They were specially built for the U.S. Army Air Service (a forerunner of the U.S. Air Force), and the new model was named the Douglas World Cruiser. Each plane was equipped with enlarged fuel tanks for the long flight and could be fitted with wheels or twin-float landing gear. Pontoons were a must for the trip since many of the landings along the way would be on water. The open-cockpit plane could accommodate two crewmen, and measured 36 feet, 6 inches in length, 14 feet, 7 inches in height, and had a wingspan of 50 feet. Their maximum speed was 103 miles per hour, though they generally cruised between 70 and 80 mph. There was no radio on the aircraft, no parachutes, no life preservers, and each machine was limited to carrying 300 pounds of supplies. To counter this limitation, caches of supplies were distributed well in advance of the flight at points around the world where the fliers would cross on land, and American ships were scheduled to be placed at strategic locations on the seas at preset times to help if needed.

Each plane was numbered and named after one of four major cities in the United States. The Seattle was plane No. 1, the Chicago plane No. 2, the Boston plane No. 3, and the New Orleans plane No. 4. Major Frederick Martin (1882-1954), the designated flight commander for the journey, served as pilot of the Seattle. He was accompanied by flight mechanic Staff Sergeant Alva Harvey (1900-1992). Lieutenant Lowell Smith (1892-1945) was pilot of the Chicago, and the co-pilot was First Lieutenant Leslie Arnold (1893-1961). First Lieutenant Leigh Wade (1897-1991) piloted the Boston while Staff Sergeant Henry "Hank" Ogden (1900-1986) served as flight mechanic. Lieutenant Erik Nelson (1888-1970) was the pilot of the New Orleans, and its co-pilot was Lieutenant John Harding Jr. (1896-1968). 

The Flight Around the World

The planes flew north through British Columbia and southeastern Alaska and followed Alaska's southern coast west, then southwest toward the Aleutian Islands. In mid-April the Seattle was forced down by an oil leak near Cape Igvak and was delayed for more than 10 days while the other fliers waited at Dutch Harbor in the eastern Aleutian Islands. On April 30, the Seattle left for Dutch Harbor and disappeared enroute. U.S. military ships, local salmon boats, and others conducted an extensive search, but there was no trace of the plane or of Martin and Harvey until May 10, when they were spotted walking toward a cannery at Port Moller. They had crashed approximately 30 miles northeast of the cannery and had walked out of the forested, snow-filled mountains, battling the elements and surviving on liquid rations until discovering a vacant trapper's cabin on the eighth day of their odyssey. This gave them a chance to eat and rest for nearly three days before striking out for Port Moller. During Martin's absence, Lowell Smith, pilot of the Chicago, was designated flight commander, and in early June, the Air Service announced that Smith would serve as commander for the remainder of the flight.

The remaining three planes continued their journey. They arrived in Tokyo on May 22, and by June 16 they were in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Here the planes turned west, traveling through Bangkok and on to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. From there they flew over the hot deserts of the Middle East, reaching Baghdad on July 8. Making excellent time, the fliers reached Vienna on July 13 and London three days later. After a layover in England to work on the planes, the fliers left the country on July 30 and flew north.

All was well until August 3, when the Boston was forced by an oil leak to make an emergency landing in the ocean between the Orkney and Faroe islands in the North Atlantic. The plane and crew were rescued by a nearby U.S. cruiser, but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair as it was being lifted onto the ship. There was a prototype of the plane available for use as a replacement, dubbed the Boston II, and it was flown to Ice Tickle (now Black Tickle), Labrador, which enabled the Boston's crew to rejoin the flight there in early September. The three planes crossed into U.S. airspace on September 5 and made a three-week victory tour across the country before making their final leg of their flight from Eugene, Oregon, to Sand Point on Sunday, September 28.

Grand Finale

A few people arrived at Sand Point Saturday night and camped out nearby to be sure to have a prime spot to view the landing. By 6 a.m. the next morning traffic to the airfield was increasing, and by 9 a.m. there was a steady stream of cars arriving. By early afternoon the crowd was estimated to be at least 40,000, with more watching from boats on Lake Washington in weather that was made for the occasion: sunny with temperatures well into the 70s. While they waited for the world cruisers the throng was entertained by demonstrations from other planes. This included a Curtiss PW-8, which wowed the crowd with acrobatics that included loops, barrel rolls, tailspins, and a demonstration of its then-impressive 170 mph top speed mere feet above the ground.

The fliers left Eugene Sunday morning at 10 a.m. The Sand Point audience was kept updated with reports when the planes passed major cities such as Salem, Portland, and Olympia. There was a brief hiccup when they made an unplanned landing in Vancouver, Washington, so the Boston II could investigate a problem with its engine. This turned out to be minor, and the fliers were airborne again 40 minutes later. Just after 1 p.m. they passed Tacoma, and as 1:30 p.m. approached all eyes at Sand Point turned south. A few heard a low hum, then an escort of seven aircraft appeared, followed by the three world cruisers themselves. The crowd responded with a cheer. The planes circled the field twice, looped over Lake Washington, then gracefully landed on the little airstrip at the north end of the field. The Chicago touched down first, quickly followed by the Boston II and the New Orleans, and the planes taxied into position in front of a reviewing stand. A nearby artillery battery manned by members of the National Guard fired a 21-gun salute, and the Puget Sound Coast Defense Band struck up the "Star-Spangled Banner."

Ignoring a prohibition of the public going onto the field immediately after the landing, Frederick Martin, pilot of the Seattle, dashed up to the Chicago. He climbed up on a wing and shook Smith's hand, then repeated the handshake with the other two pilots. Pictures and speeches followed, capped off with another reception later in the afternoon at Volunteer Park. After another round of speeches, the men each received gold and platinum rings from the City of Seattle, and Martin received a pair of platinum wings for his valor after the crash in Alaska. (The Seattle's flight mechanic, Alva Harvey, also was awarded a pair of wings. However, he was not present for the landing or the subsequent ceremonies, the only member of the original eight-man team to miss it.)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the two planes that successfully completed the trip had traveled 26,345 miles in 175 days, 66 that were spent in the air. They made 76 separate stops and landed in 22 countries. They also set three new records on the trip: They were the first to cross the Pacific Ocean, the first to cross the South China Sea, and the first to successfully fly around the world. The global accomplishment was even sweeter because four other countries (Argentina, France, Great Britain, and Italy) also attempted to send fliers around the world in 1924, but only the Americans succeeded.

The following afternoon the fliers attended a dedication ceremony for the World Flight Monument at the Sand Point airfield. Created by Alonzo Victor Lewis (1886-1946), the granite tower is 15 feet high, three feet wide at its base, tapering to two feet at its top. A pair of bronze wings atop the memorial symbolizes an eagle landing, and a plaque on its base identifies each of the men and the dates of the flight. (The monument still stands, though it has since been moved from its original location near the landing strip to the main entrance to Magnuson Park.) After the ceremony ended the men sadly unpacked their planes for the final time, looking them over carefully and touching them here and there.


E.P. Chalcraft, "City Gives Ovation to U.S. Flyers," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 29, 1924, pp, 1-2; Fred Niendorff, "Thousands Unite in Mighty Welcome for Triumphant Birdmen," Ibid., September 29, 1924, pp. 1-2; "Engine Trouble Halts Flyers at Vancouver," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 2; "Interesting Facts Tersely Told About First Round World Flight," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 2; Lyn Fox, "Loss of Plane 'Greatest Tragedy of My Life So Far' Says Lt. Wade," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 3; "Sight-Seers Jam Routes to Landing," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 3; "Fastest Plane Thrills Crowd," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 7; "Here Is Log of Last Hop," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 7; "Flyers Take Sad Farewell of Ships That Girded Globe," Ibid., September 30, 1924, p. 1; "U.S. Flyers Begin Their Around-the-World Trip," The Seattle Times, April 7, 1924, p. 3; Frederick J. Martin, "Flight Commander Tells of Hardships After Plane Crash," Ibid., May 12, 1924, pp. 1, 3; Alva L. Harvey, "Sergeant Harvey Tells Story," Ibid., May 13, 1924, pp. 1, 3; "Lieut. Wade May Resume Flight in Navy Seaplane; Smith and Nelson Waiting," Ibid., August 4, 1924, pp. 1, 5; "Six Airmen to Go East Tomorrow," Ibid., September 29, 1924, pp. 1, 9; "Cheers Echo in Park," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 9; "Major Martin Greets Flyers," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 9; "Huge Throng Welcomes Flyers," Ibid., September 29, 1924, p. 10; "2,000 See Monument to Flyers Unveiled at Field," Ibid., September 30, 1924, p. 10; The Seattle World Cruiser Project, "1924 World Flight Chronicle: May 11, May 22, June 16, July 8, July 16, July 30, August 3, 1924," website accessed October 5, 2023 (https://www.seattleworldcruiser.org/1924-world-flight-chronicle). Note: This entry replaces a previous entry on the same subject. 

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