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The Greatest Flight: Schlee and Brock’s 1927 Around-the-World Attempt
Newfoundlanders gather around the Stinson SM-1 Pride of Detroit on August 27, 1927, to see off William Brock and Edward Schlee on their world flight attempt.
Conception Bay Museum Archives
In 1927, on the heels of Lindbergh’s transatlantic success, two Midwesterners attempted to fly around the world in a single-engine Stinson
The mid-1920s was an era marked by aviation challenges, as pilots pushed themselves and their airplanes to the limit on record-breaking flight attempts. In April 1924 four Douglas World Cruiser bi-planes, each with a two-man crew, began an around-the-world trip, taking 175 days to fly almost 24,000 miles, with two of the aircraft completing the circumnavigation. Charles Lindbergh’s May 1927 transatlantic crossing took less than 34 hours, earned him a $25,000 prize and sparked even more interest in challenging, high-risk, over-ocean flights. Three months after Lindbergh’s celebrated flight, Ed Schlee and Bill Brock attempted to fly around the world in an aircraft not much larger than Lindbergh’s Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis—a truly herculean effort.
Edward F. Schlee was born in Detroit in 1887 and with his brothers formed the Wayco Oil Corporation after World War I, eventually owning about 100 gas stations in the metro area. Schlee learned to fly and also owned an air taxi service using Stinson biplanes. His chief pilot was Bill Brock.
Born in 1895, Ohioan William S. Brock had at age 15 traveled to Glenn Curtiss’ flying school in Hammondsport, N.Y. Brock didn’t have the $150 tuition, so Curtiss told him to write home for funds. In the interim, he worked in the kitchen to cover his board. Unknown to Curtiss, Brock took flying lessons from one of the instructors and was soloing in less than a week. It didn’t take long before the instructor said, “Kid, you’re as good as I am.”
Advances in aviation technology were supported by many influential people of the day, including industrialist Henry Ford and his son Edsel. Based in Dearborn, Mich., the Fords sponsored an annual Ford National Reliability Air Tour competition beginning in 1925 to help build the public’s trust in safe air travel. The 1927 tour, held from June 27 to July 12, covered more than 4,000 miles and was won by the same Stinson SM-1 Detroiter that Schlee and Brock would use on their flight. Eddie Stinson, co-founder of Stinson Aircraft, was the pilot, accompanied by Schlee, Schlee’s wife and other passengers. Originally named Miss Wayco after Schlee’s company, the airplane was rechristened Pride of Detroit for the around-the-world attempt.
From left: Eddie Rickenbacker, unknown, Brock, Schlee, Henry Ford and Edsel Ford confer in Dearborn, Mich., beside Schlee and Brock’s SM-1 Detroiter. (Walter F. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University)
Like Henry and Edsel Ford, Schlee wanted to prove the reliability of air travel. “Our flight is not a stunt,” he said. “Our main purpose is to demonstrate, dramatically perhaps, but definitely, how practical and serviceable travel by air is today.” An additional goal was to beat the round-the-world record, which at the time was about 28½ days. That effort had been completed in 1926 by Linton Wells and Edward Evans, who used steamships, trains, cars and aircraft for their multi-modal trip. Schlee and Brock planned for their trip to be 100 percent airborne.
Flying around the world with 1920s technology presented significant challenges. The flight would be costly Wayco’s profits enabled Schlee to provide $100,000 of funding. He also organized the route and identified refueling, maintenance and rest stops. These and other logistics took about a year to organize, dealing with slow communications, language translations and foreign government bureaucracies. The U.S. Navy promised assistance for the Pacific Ocean flight segments.
The SM-1 Detroiter chosen for the journey cost $12,000 off the assembly line and held up to six passengers. It was 33 feet long, had a 45.8-foot wingspan and was powered by a 220-hp Wright J-5 Whirlwind engine that delivered a maximum speed of 122 mph.
The reliable Wright Whirlwind was a real asset for long-distance aviation efforts. The 9-cylinder air-cooled radial weighed less than liquid-cooled engines, allowing extra fuel to be carried. Moreover, its simpler and lighter design meant less could go wrong.
All available cabin space would be used for fuel and oil storage. The instrument panel featured various engine gauges, an airspeed indicator, an altimeter and an earth inductor compass that was more stable than previous devices, making it easier to hold a heading over long periods in the air. No radio was on board.
Concerned that the Detroiter’s loud engine would lull them to sleep, the aviators installed balsa wood in the cabin to muffle the noise. Felt was placed over the gas tank in the fuselage for a bit of comfort during sleep time. Brock, who was short, thought he had sufficient space but that the taller Schlee would have to be a contortionist to fit in that limited area. Auxiliary five-gallon gas cans stored in the cabin added to the cramped conditions.
Plans were made to have an extra engine available in Tokyo in case they needed a replacement. A conversion table with time and distance on the axes and data points for different airspeeds enabled the aviators to estimate distances traveled.
The official start point for the flight would be Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, but there was a problem with that location: It didn’t have an airstrip. To rectify the situation, Stinson’s Fred Koehler traveled to Newfoundland to meet with residents. A location near Crow Hill was selected and city officials approved construction of the airstrip on July 25, 1927, with local citizens and the Newfoundland government making contributions. Beginning in early August, workers cleared an area about 4,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. Extensive manual labor and horse-drawn carts were involved in hauling away rock and other debris from what became the landing field. It was finished shortly before Pride of Detroit arrived.
Newfoundland residents constructed a 4,000-foot airstrip for the aviators’ use. (Conception Bay Museum Archives)
Schlee and Brock did not appear to be averse to publicity. A July 1927 letter from Warner Advertising to Schlee indicated that press releases about the flight had been sent to local magazines and other publications. Various advertisements promoting their use of Shell gasoline were produced, as Wayco was a Shell distributor.
The aviators left Ford’s Dearborn airfield on August 23, with stops in New York and Maine, before arriving at Harbour Grace (it is unclear why the fliers did not simply designate Dearborn as their official starting point). Brock was confident they could complete the trip in less than 18 days—flying just over 22,000 miles in about 240 air hours, for an average speed of 92 mph. For good measure he brought along a lucky rabbit’s foot.
Schlee and Brock took off from Harbour Grace on August 27, heading to England. They made landfall 24 hours later, but did not know where—England, Wales, Ireland or even France. They dropped a message, weighted down by an orange, to a few onlookers at a small fishing village. When the residents retrieved a large Union Jack flag and waved it at them, the aviators knew they were over England and were able to get their bearings and land at Croydon.
After their transatlantic crossing, Schlee shakes hands with an official at England’s Croydon aerodrome while Brock looks on. (Watford/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Many miles of flying lay ahead. After leaving England, their stops included Germany, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iraq, Persia (Iran), Pakistan, India, Burma, Indochina, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Japan. Schlee and Brock overcame numerous challenges, any of which could have resulted in disaster. They could not find Stuttgart’s airfield, which they later learned was 15 miles south of the city, so they opted instead for Munich. In Hong Kong they faced a very risky takeoff, as heavy rain the night before departure left the dirt field in poor condition, especially for a heavily laden aircraft. Maintenance was a constant concern. Once, after a day of flying, Brock spent more than three hours fixing a magneto and adjusting the engine’s tappet rods and rockers.
Neither of the men anticipated getting much rest. “If we get five hours a night, we’ll be satisfied,” said Brock. Food would be whatever was available. Language was not a concern, he said, as “we know the motions and gestures.” While Brock did most of the flying, Schlee calculated drift and pumped gas from reserves into the main tanks.
Weather presented its own set of challenges. The crew dealt with a gale in the eastern Atlantic, heat and dust in southern Persia and severe storms in India and Southeast Asia. Brock later stated that the most dangerous part of the flight was when they encountered a monsoon after leaving Shanghai and “were tossed about unmercifully.” After leaving China, thunderstorms forced them down on Japan’s Kyushu Island. By the time they reached Tokyo on September 13, they had covered more than 12,000 miles in 19 days of travel. But the long Pacific crossing lay ahead.
The transpacific leg would be extraordinarily challenging and risky. After leaving Tokyo, Schlee and Brock would have to find Midway Atoll, about 2,500 miles distant. Midway consists primarily of two small islands, each about two miles long and a half-mile wide, with a maximum elevation of 45 feet—essentially specks of sand in the ocean. After Midway, two more long-haul overwater flights would be required: 1,440 miles to Honolulu and then 2,400 miles to San Francisco.
By this time in 1927, a series of tragedies had the public questioning transoceanic flying. Four days before Schlee and Brock left Newfoundland, Paul Redfern set out from Sea Island, Ga., in a Stinson Detroiter on a flight across the Caribbean Sea to Rio de Janeiro and disappeared in the Amazon jungle (see “Lost Flight to Brazil,” January 2021). Canadian aviators Terrence Tully and James Medcalf attempted a flight from London, Ontario, to London, England, in August. At some point after leaving Newfoundland on September 7, their Detroiter disappeared into the Atlantic. In another tragedy, 10 people lost their lives during the August Dole Air Race from California to Hawaii. The Navy spent millions of dollars searching for these lost fliers, but abandoned the effort due to very limited budgets. As a result, the Navy rescinded its offer to help Schlee and Brock. Navy Secretary Curtis Wilbur said the service would no longer “aid and abet any man who attempted to commit suicide.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of telegrams were sent to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, pleading for the fliers to call it quits. Press and aviation experts began calling the trip a suicide flight. One telegram in particular, received by the American consul, may have tipped the scale. It was from Schlee’s young children, Rosemarie and Teddy, and read: “Daddy dear please take boat home to us. We miss you.” Schlee’s wife hoped that the fliers would be “sensible and take a Vancouver boat.”
Given the mounting pressure, on September 15 Schlee and Brock decided to call off the remainder of the flight. Heeding Mrs. Schlee’s advice, they took a passenger ship back to the United States, along with the partially disassembled Pride of Detroit. Arriving in San Francisco, Schlee indicated public opinion, as well as the Navy’s change of heart, had influenced their decision: “[A]fter we got about 800 cablegrams from friends and relatives telling us it would be suicidal…we decided to give it up.”
Pride of Detroit is offloaded at San Francisco after the fliers returned by ship. (Aviation History Collection/Alamy)
The two aviators had their aircraft reassembled in San Francisco and flew home. Following several stops, they landed in Dearborn on October 4. Friends and family hosted a parade and then a reception that evening, where Schlee collapsed from exhaustion.
The Detroit Free Press summarized their achievement: “Schlee and Brock flew more than halfway around the world with only brief stops, traversing oceans and continents, mountain ranges and deserts, combating fierce storms in strange lands and waters. Their skill and courage never failed them and their machine proved staunch. They demonstrated the practicability of sustained, long-distance flying. All these things combine to make their trip ‘the greatest flight.’”
Schlee and Brock enjoyed a fair amount of celebrity after the flight. In an appearance in Lansing, Mich., their message to attendees was “aviation today is safe, is sane, and practical.” In 1928 Schlee sold the Wayco Oil Corporation and used the proceeds to underwrite ventures such as the Schlee-Brock Aircraft Corporation, which, among other things, sold Lockheed Vegas. The two men undertook various long-distance flights around the country, but nothing compared to their globe-girdling effort.
When the aviation industry fell victim to the Depression, Pride of Detroit was auctioned off in 1931 to satisfy a debt. At one point it was stored in a cow shed. The aircraft was subsequently restored and is now displayed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn—very close to where Schlee and Brock set out on their round-the-world attempt.
Bill Brock succumbed to cancer in 1932, at age 36. Ed Schlee worked as an aircraft inspector at Packard during World War II and died in 1969. Their flight and those of countless men and women since then have led to tremendous advancements in aviation technology and safety. Round-the-world travel can now be completed in just a couple of days, with minimal stops and with a level of comfort and safety that Schlee and Brock could only have imagined.
Barry Levine works at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn volunteers at the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Mich. and writes on a variety of aviation and history topics. For further reading, he recommends: Detroitland: A Collection of Movers, Shakers, Lost Souls, and History Makers From Detroit’s Past, by Richard Bak.
This feature originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe click here!
Around-the-World Flights: A History
by Patrick M Stinson
Gallant efforts that fall short can prove to be of more enduring inspiration than a successful outcome might have been.
It’s all relative. To an SR-71 Blackbird pilot who’s clocked 2000+ mph zipping around the globe in about 11 hours the 530-odd mph your average commercial jet achieves are boringly slow. Only 55 years before the fastest recorded SR-71 flight, pilots on the first around-the-world challenge (1921) were given 100 days to make the trip.
That contest ended up being cancelled, which leads us to the quote above. As true, and obvious, as it is, the reality is that on the subject of around-the-world flights few of the failures (with the exception of Amelia Earhart whose unexplained 1937 disappearance on a circumnavigational flight of the globe still today occupies the public’s imagination) have been recorded in any detail and not even all of the successes. This sad state of affairs is what the author discovered when he began to look into the subject.
Stinson’s particular point of entry happened to be a flight that took place the year he was born, 1949 (Lucky Lady II, a B-50 bomber). This flight did make the history books because, thanks to in-flight refueling, it was the first-ever nonstop circumnavigation. Often we remark here that the most worthwhile books are written by people who take an interest in a topic, proceed to read up on it—only to discover there is nothing of substance to read because no one has written it yet. Stinson, being the curious sort (he works for PBS and contributes to aviation magazines), took it upon himself to spare others that disappointment and put pen to paper.
His research began in 1986 and led him to a plethora of archival resources across the globe—from NASA to reunion associations. Using World War I, that great catalyst for technological advances, as his point of departure, Stinson briefly summarizes key activities in the field of aviation before shifting to the aforementioned 1921 challenge. It would take another three years before anyone actually accomplished the feat, in 1924, a busy year in which 10 attempts had already failed before a US team flying brand-new Douglas World Cruiser biplanes successfully flew from/to Seattle, Washington. It took 175 days—with a flying time of over 371 hours—and the help of 28 nations that provided logistical support along the way—and they lost two of their four planes.
A story, then, full of toil and tribulation. Stinson describes the various efforts, all the way to 2009. What the Table of Contents lacks in specificity the Index more than makes up. If you already know a bit about the subject you’ll probably want to start there. The text consists mostly of lively narrative, augmented with many quotes and excerpts from contemporary sources such as letters and news clippings.
It is one of Stinson’s goals to enter into the record the deeds of those who are so often the unlauded backbone of complex endeavors: the support crews. The book covers civilian and military efforts (including airships) and it is no surprise that it is the military flights that are the most extensively documented in terms of aircraft data and crew lists, even minutia such as call signs, and some of these are reproduced here.
Lest there be unrealistic expectations: the book does not, cannot, list every flight—there are too many! Thus light aircraft (modern-era Piper Cub class) are covered only in passing and only if they represent a first-ever achievement, and, for instance, the Blackbird referred to above is not mentioned at all.
There are only 12 photos, none of which newer than 1965, but they are as well reproduced as the soft paper allows. While the text is full of data points there is no one table that gathers the relevant parameters (cf. speed, distance, time, stops, propulsion) in a neatly organized form so as to quickly convey the ever expanding envelope. Chapter Notes at the back of the book list sources and there is a Bibliography.
Anyone who has the spare change to buy a $200,000 ticket can book right now a trip into space—from whence to return in a matter of minutes. Wondrous times, thanks to the early pioneers you read about here.
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Wiley Post, (born November 22, 1898, near Grand Saline, Texas, U.S.—died August 15, 1935, near Point Barrow, Alaska), one of the most colourful figures of the early years of American aviation, who set many records, including the first solo flight around the world.
Post, accompanied by navigator Harold Gatty, made his first around-the-world flight from June 23 to July 1, 1931, in a Lockheed Vega named Winnie Mae (now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection), completing the voyage in 8 days, 15 hours, 51 minutes later that year their account of the trip was published as Around the World in Eight Days. Two years later, again piloting the Winnie Mae, Post achieved his solo record, covering a total of 15,596 miles (25,099 km) in 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes, from July 15 to July 22, 1933. On this flight he proved the value of navigational instruments, including the automatic pilot. He later went on to establish altitude records, wearing a pressure suit of his own design to survive the high-altitude conditions.
In 1935 Post and humorist Will Rogers, his passenger, were killed when Post’s aircraft crashed in Alaska.
This article was most recently revised and updated by John M. Cunningham, Readers Editor.
A National Aeronautic Association press release, dated April 18, 1964, announced that Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock had just become the first woman to fly solo around the world. Previous attempts by women, including the ill-fated 1937 flight of Amelia Earhart, were unsuccessful. When success did come, it was 27 years later by a woman from Columbus, Ohio, flying a 1953 Cessna 180 single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of Columbus. Mock wrote about her solo world flight in Three Eight Charlie (republished in 2013).
Born in 1925, Jerrie Mock first flew at five years of age in a Ford TriMotor and became one of the first female aeronautical engineering students at Ohio State University. She married a pilot, Russell Mock, and flying with him only furthered her interest in flight. At the age of 32, Mock began taking flying lessons in a Piper Tri-Pacer and received her private pilot's license in 1958. Flying cross-country with her husband, she enjoyed listening to other pilots on the radio en route to various destinations and she eventually began planning her own flight because she "just wanted to see the world." Her filing for a feminine round the world flight surprised Joan Merriam Smith who was planning a world flight along Amelia Earhart's route but had not yet filed with the National Aeronautic Association neither woman had heard of the other until then. Though neither called it an actual race, and only Mock's flight was officially sanctioned by the NAA, when Smith announced her imminent departure in a faster, more sophisticated twin-engine Piper Apache, Mock moved up her "sightseeing" takeoff by two weeks.
As the mother of three children (17, 16, and 3 years old), barely five feet in height and weighing little more than 100 pounds, this "flying housewife," was far from the typical pilot. However, though she did not have over-water experience, she was armed with confidence, 750 hours of flight time, and a newly acquired instrument rating which allowed her greater latitude for weather conditions, though the flight would be primarily under visual flight rules (VFR). Her enthusiastic husband helped with fundraising and the preparation of the aircraft. Russell and his partner Al Baumeister prepared the 1953 Cessna 180 for long-distance flight by installing a new 225 hp engine, adding twin radio direction finders (ADF), dual short-range VHF NAV/Coms, a long-range HF radio with trailing antenna, autopilot, and a new compass. Dave Blanton of Javelin Aircraft Company engineered the preparation and installation of three extra fuel tanks in place of passenger seats that added 692 liters (183 gallons) of fuel, boosting the little Cessna's range to 5,633 km (3,500 miles). Fully fueled the Cessna weighed nearly 408 kg (900 pounds) more than normal, which the FAA allowed with a ferry permit, and Mock reasoned that the single engine aircraft was quite sufficient for if an overloaded twin lost one engine, the second would not be able to sustain flight anyway. It would also require less fuel and thus weigh less. After stowing personal equipment, portable oxygen equipment and survival gear, Mock tucked in her typewriter for Columbus Dispatch articles and personal letters. Following her initial flight planning, she consulted with a USAF captain to prepare her jet-navigation strip charts and she also carried various en route, terrain, radio station and other com/nav charts and publications, along with visas and clearances.
Mock departed Columbus, Ohio at 9:31 am on March 19, two days after Smith departed California both were eastbound. When Mock tried her HF radio near Richmond, Virginia, she found it was not working at all, as if it was not even connected. She flew out over the Atlantic and found her two direction finders registering 60 degrees apart. After selecting one as most accurate and dodging clouds, she realized she has just overflown her first stop, Bermuda and quickly turned back. She landed at Kindley AFB airport in a dangerous cross-wind and the Cessna's brakes proved inadequate during the long taxi &mdash a vicious wind pushed the plane in a circle and line boys had to grab and safely guide it out of the wind. The large fuel tanks were removed to access the radio where a technician discovered a lead that was not only unattached but also taped on its raw end. Because the radio had checked out perfectly when installed in Florida before arriving at the Cessna plant in Wichita, Mock could only conclude that someone had deliberately detached the leads there but for what purpose? The taped end was especially troubling, but nothing was to be done but reattach it and press on.
After a week of bad weather in Bermuda, and her husband's updates on Smith down in South America, Mock flew 3,627 km (2,254 miles) to Santa Maria, Azores. During the 13-hour flight she began picking up ice from rising mist, climbed above it to 3,353 meters (11,000 feet) and then made her first instrument approach without an instructor.
Arriving next at Casablanca, Morocco, she found the brakes still troublesome and on the phone her husband confessed he had forgotten to tell her that new brakes had not been installed as planned. The burning question for her at Bône, Algeria was the local concern over her "flight clothing," a white blouse and blue skirt and high heels. Mock responded that she washed her drip-dry clothes in the sink every night. She preferred pants but felt the public attention dictated more feminine attire and took off the heels while flying. Sandstorms at her planned stop at Cairo, Egypt, then dictated a stop Tripoli, Libya, which she located skimming along the Mediterranean coast, and through its Morse code radio beacon tuned on the ADF meanwhile the long range antenna motor nearly burned up and she feared an inflight explosion. Confused on her approach to Cairo the next day, she mistakenly landed at Inchas AFB to be greeted by armed soldiers who allowed her to quickly take off and hop over to the international airport instead.
Though her flights across the Mideast proved relatively uneventful, she became keenly aware of the dramatic difference in flight rules and the near total absence of private or business aviation and the American concept of general aviation. Controlled airspace and airports for military and commercial aircraft meant red-tape, delays and outlays of cash. Later in Manila, commiserating with a friend, she worried: "Do you think it could ever get like this at home?" Still, she enjoyed the dramatic cultural changes in food and dress, as women's full dark hijabs in the Middle East bloomed into brightly-colored saris or pantaloons of India. In Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where women could not drive or appear unveiled in public, the men cheered incredulously when they discovered there was no man on board the aircraft with her.
While arrangements with friends and diplomats had been made at some stops, in others she located food and lodging and set out on walking tours of her own. Aero Clubs often smoothed the way, as did the U.S. Air Force, and National Aeronautic Association observers filled in the forms to prove she had indeed hopscotched completely around the world. Mock also successfully avoided unfriendly countries such as Cambodia and military situations. As she flew over Vietnam on a 13-hour flight from Bangkok to Manila, she noted: "Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful." After a nervous flight over the South China Sea due to a rough-running engine, a relieved Jerrie delivered 38C to the Cessna maintenance shop in Manila, Philippines the brakes and antenna were fixed and the 180 received a 100-hour inspection in preparation for her long legs over the Pacific Ocean.
With a renewed "Charlie," as she affectionately called her plane, she made an 11-hour flight non-precision overwater flight using ADF, VOR, and radio beacons to Guam, happy to be back in U.S. airspace. Russ Mock reported that Joan Smith was only in Calcutta, but pressed Jerrie to immediately push on to Wake Island (another 12.5-hour flight). With her longest flights over the Pacific still ahead of her, the people and press only wanted to talk about Amelia Earhart who was lost between Lae, New Guinea and Howland Island. Undaunted, Mock flew 3,701 km (2,300 miles) from Wake to Honolulu in 15 hours and 46 minutes, looking forward to a planned luau in Hawaii. Unfortunately, her overzealous husband had cancelled it thinking she would need the sleep. On April 14, she flew the final and uneventful ocean leg of 3877 km (2,409 miles) to Oakland, California in 17 hours and 38 minutes. After a short flight to Tucson, she departed on April 17 for the 2,414 (1,500 mile) flight home via Texas and Kentucky, to be sure and fly more than 36,788 km (22,858.8 miles) and qualify for a round the world flight. Meanwhile Joan Smith was in Australia and no longer a threat.
Her husband called at her last stop of Bowling Green, KY to inquire about her ETA (estimated time of arrival) in Columbus as the governor, FAA Administrator Najeeb Halaby and several thousand people were eagerly awaiting her arrival. After 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes and 37,180 km (23,103 miles), Mock touched down at Port Columbus airport at 9:36 pm on April 17 to become the first woman to fly around the world. In addition, the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale certified the flight as a round-the-world speed record for Class C1-c aircraft (weighing less than 1,626 kg (3,585 pounds)), and, by default, a feminine speed record around the world. She set a total of seven records including first woman to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
On May 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Mock with the Federal Aviation Administration's Exception Service Decoration and she became the first American and the first woman to receive the FAI's Louis Bleriot Silver Medal. Her self-described status as "the flying housewife" notwithstanding, Mock had thoroughly prepared for the flight and accomplished it in a professional manner, trouble-shooting as necessary and handling bureaucracy and diplomacy with firmness and grace. More personally, she achieved two of her three childhood goals: flying around the world and riding a camel in the desert (the Sahara while in Egypt) only riding on an elephant still eluded her.
Mock never flew the Spirit of Columbus again as first Javelin Aircraft and then Cessna acquired the aircraft, displaying it at the Cessna factory until donating it to the National Air and Space Museum in 1976 where it is now displayed at the Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. Meanwhile Mock continued her aviation career in a Cessna P206, setting several other records, including a 500 km (310 mile) closed-circuit speed record of 332.70 kph (206.73 mph) and fastest speed over the following recognized courses: Oakland to Honolulu, Oakland to Rabaul, Guadalcanal to Rabaul, NB (234.91 km/h or 145.96 mph), Tarawa to Guadalcanal (252.84 km/h or 157.11 mph), Honolulu to Tarawa (228.14 km/h or 141.75 mph), Columbus to San Juan (175.25 km/h 108.90 mph), San Juan to Columbus (177.55 km/h or 110.32 mph), Columbus to San Juan to Columbus (175.40 km/h or 108.99 mph).
An Around-the-World Flight ‘Foredoomed to Failure’
The three airmen are all smiles prior to takeoff from RAF Shaibah on July 17, 1922. Their attitudes would soon take a turn for the worse.
An ill-prepared British crew set out in 1922 on the first-ever attempt to fly around the world.
In August 1922, the crew of a steam launch plucked two exhausted and half-starved British airmen from the Bay of Bengal. The fliers had endured two interminable days clinging to the upturned floats of their capsized floatplane, which had been kept from sinking only by the air trapped in its empty fuel tanks. This minor epic of survival marked the untimely end of the first attempt to fly around the world—with only the first of four planned stages completed.
The flight was the brainchild of former World War I infantryman Major Wilfred T. Blake, who secured sponsorship from Britain’s Daily News and other backers. The patriotic Blake had heard a rumor that the Americans were planning a round-the-world flight and was determined to beat them to it. Ironically, his chance of being first had been improved by the tragic death of Australian aviator Ross Smith on April 13, 1922, while flight-testing the Vickers Viking amphibian in which he and his crew planned to attempt a circumnavigation. (Smith had already set the gold standard for contemporary long-distance flights in late 1919 by flying from Britain to Australia in a Vickers Vimy in 28 days—see “Off to Oz,” November 2009 issue.)
As his pilot, Blake recruited Captain Norman Macmillan, a test pilot and decorated nine-victory WWI fighter ace. A Far East expert, Lt. Col. L.E. Broome, and later Geoffrey Malins were to photograph the flight. Blake’s highly ambitious plan was to use a war-surplus Airco D.H.9 bought from the Aircraft Disposal Company (ADC), converted from two to three seats, for the London to Calcutta stage. A Fairey IIIC floatplane would undertake the demanding Calcutta to Vancouver stage, and then another D.H.9 would fly the long overland Vancouver to Montreal haul. After which, if all went according to plan, a Felixstowe F.3 flying boat would be used for the final stretch across Labrador, Greenland and Iceland to Britain. In total they aimed to fly 23,690 miles over the four stages.
From left, pilot Norman Macmillian, William T. Blake and photographer Geoffrey Malins stand beside their modified Airco D.H.9 at RAF Shaibah. (RAF Museum, Hendon)
Blake’s insistence on sticking to the announced departure date from London’s Croydon airport of May 24 meant that Macmillan had no opportunity to flight test the much-modified D.H.9 G-EBDE in fully loaded configuration with its enlarged fuel capacity. Indeed the ADC’s single flight test took place the evening before departure, and only then was the final coat of paint applied. Macmillan had particular concerns about G-EBDE’s all-up weight, not least because, as he said, “Broome weighs twice as much as Blake and I together.” There were also worries about the D.H.9’s 230-hp Siddeley Puma engine, which had proved unreliable in RAF service.
With good wishes from King George V, the trio departed Croydon on the afternoon of May 24, The New York Times reporting that “they hope to complete the journey in about ninety days, reaching Croydon on Sept. 7.”Moreover, Blake told a reporter that they “hoped to be on [North] American soil early in August.” But to many of those watching their departure, the D.H.9 “was extremely small and frail for such an ambitious flight.”
Once on course for the English Channel and France, Macmillan found that G-EBDE was tail-heavy, no doubt partly due to the heavyweight Broome in the rear cockpit. The pilot recalled, “I wound the control right back, but her tail still sagged in the air.” Three exhausting hours later, with muscles aching, he brought the D.H.9 into Le Bourget in Paris. Blake immediately telephoned the ADC to send over a mechanic to rectify the problem.
The delay cost them a day before they were airborne again, heading across the Alps to Turin. But clouds over the mountains and the overloaded G-EBDE’s lack of climbing power forced them to divert to Lyons and an unscheduled overnight stay. Weather conditions proving no better the next day, Macmillan headed for Nice, on the French Riviera, flying down the Rhône valley past Avignon. Running short of fuel, and with the Puma engine sounding ragged, he changed course for Marseille. Unable to locate the airfield, he force-landed the D.H.9 north of the city on the Parc Borely racecourse, damaging the undercarriage and smashing the propeller.
On May 26, the D.H.9 was damaged during a forced landing at a French racecourse near Marseille. (HistoryNet Archive)
Next day the D.H.9 suffered further damage at the hands of careless French air force mechanics sent to dismantle and transport it to the Istres military flying school for repairs. Several frustrating weeks followed, during which efforts to restore G-EBDE to flying condition proved unsuccessful. Blake finally gave up and ordered another D.H.9 to be sent from England. To ensure photographic continuity, a dash of paint swiftly transformed the replacement G-EBDF into G-EBDE. On June 22, now well behind schedule, the flight resumed. By that time photographer Malins had replaced Broome, who departed to finalize arrangements in the Far East.
Their subsequent progress across France and Italy was beguilingly trouble-free. After an overnight stop in Rome, they flew past Naples and over the crater of Mount Vesuvius, where “Sulphur fumes stank in our nostrils.” To Blake’s alarm, the plane shot up 400 feet in the warm air and then dropped 600 feet. They continued on eastward, across the turbulent Apennines to Brindisi aerodrome, where another calamity awaited them. “A deep ditch, completely hidden in the long grass, tripped us up at the very end of the landing run and damaged the undercarriage and airscrew,” Macmillan recorded. Ten more days were lost waiting for a new prop to be sent from England, while the undercarriage was repaired with parts taken from an old Caproni. Meanwhile, Macmillan injured a foot in an automobile accident, so he had to fly the next stage wearing a carpet slipper.
After reaching Athens on July 6, the pilot needed to rest his injured foot for two days. Before the airmen departed, Queen Sophia of Greece presented them with provisions for the flight. They set a course across the Mediterranean for Crete and then Africa, settling down for what would prove to be their longest flight over water, landing 4½ hours later at the British military airstrip at Sollum, Egypt. Next day, after a slight delay due to a collapsed tailskid shock absorber, they flew along the Libyan Desert coastline to the RAF station at Aboukir, near Alexandria, arriving at dusk.
In the same casually optimistic spirit in which the whole flight had been undertaken, the trio had intended to fly from Aboukir into British-mandated Palestine and then, alone and unsupported, across the vast Syrian Desert to Baghdad. This route involved traversing more than 500 largely unmapped miles of an arid plateau rising up to 2,000 feet, with areas of dried-up wadis, mudflats and harsh basalt. The RAF would have none of it, however, stressing it was highly inadvisable for any civilian aircraft to fly that route unescorted. Moreover, they would be required to take food and water for five days, equivalent to the weight of an extra crew member. Instead the RAF obligingly arranged for them to travel to Baghdad in company with a radio-equipped Vickers Vernon transport, which would also carry their water. They were provided with desert sun helmets and rudimentary maps of the route, the navigation of which largely involved following the track made across the otherwise featureless desert by RAF armored cars in 1921, much easier said than done.
Predictably, G-EBDE’s eastward desert transit was far from incident-free. On July 11, having crossed Palestine, the crewmen joined their Vernon escort at Ziza, on the desert’s threshold. Flying low to keep the track in sight, they faced difficult flying conditions caused by the searing heat and intense glare from the ground. Stopping to refuel at RAF emergency landing grounds en route, they set out on their own after the Vernon developed engine trouble, eventually arriving parched and exhausted in Baghdad two days later. Along the way they had encountered friendly tribesmen who offered them goat’s milk to fill their radiator, as well as some others, less welcoming, who shot at them as they flew over. In the final stages of the desert crossing, the D.H.9 was so low on fuel that they force-landed and spent two hours transferring the last drops of petrol from the supplementary tanks to the main tank using a water bottle.
After two days’ rest in Baghdad, during which G-EBDE was thoroughly serviced by the RAF, the airmen flew south for three hours to RAF Shaibah, near Basra. There, in anticipation of even higher temperatures to come, the RAF soldered an additional cooling surface onto the D.H.9’s radiator. When they were airborne again on July 17, the engine remained cool, even if Macmillan did not. “Flying in the heat was hard work and I ran with perspiration,” he noted.
Heading southeast along the western shore of the Persian Gulf, the crew crossed the Persian frontier to touch down at Bushire. After refueling, G-EBDE set off again to fly the 400 miles to Bandar Abbas. Running out of daylight, Macmillan made a difficult forced landing on a sandy foreshore, where they dined on tinned lobster provided by Queen Sofia.
Arriving at Bandar Abbas early the next morning, they flew on to Chabar, their last airfield in Persia before reaching British imperial India. On July 19, after a five-hour flight along the coast, they were over Karachi, where Macmillan found “The green of the gardens and parks was a delight after arid lands.” For G-EBDE’s crew, it had been a relatively incident-free leg, in stark contrast to what was to follow, not least because their successive delays meant they had arrived in the monsoon season.
Their intended course across the Indian subcontinent had been via Nasirabad to Delhi and then south to Calcutta, where the Fairey IIIC floatplane G-EBDI awaited them for the transpacific stage. But since monsoon rains had flooded all the airfields along their planned route and an alternate route suggested by the RAF was soon ruled out by the overflowing Indus River, the crew decided to stage north through Jacobabad, or alternately Sibi. After that they would head northeast to Lahore, a diversion that would add many troublesome miles to their route.
Leaving Karachi on July 22, a four-hour flight along the Indus valley brought them to Jacobabad, where they had intended to refuel and then fly the 420 miles direct to Lahore. Unfortunately no fuel was available in Jacobabad, and so began yet another chapter of time-consuming misfortunes. Flying to Sibi, on the edge of the scorching Sind Desert, the airmen obtained a meager 12 gallons. They pressed on the next day to RAF Quetta, located on a high plateau 100 miles away, but found their route through the mountainous Bolan Pass shrouded in mist. Returning to Sibi, they damaged the tail skid and undercarriage on landing. Yet again the RAF came to the rescue, sending air and road parties to repair G-EBDE. Airborne once more on July 25, the trio had to turn back almost immediately with a fuel pump impeller malfunction. When the problem turned out to be beyond local repair, they had to fly to RAF Quetta, which they managed to reach only through the muscular efforts of Blake, laboring continuously on the emergency hand pump.
At Agra the D.H.9’s Siddeley Puma engine had to be replaced. (HistoryNet Archives)
Three more days elapsed before they set off again for Lahore, stopping after five hours at Montgomery to refuel. Takeoff was delayed when a monsoon downpour turned the airfield into a quagmire, but somehow Macmillan managed to get G-EBDE unstuck, swerving between trees as the D.H.9 struggled to gain airspeed. “I felt the hot breath of the exhaust as we skidded under the leaves…,” he recalled. “That take-off was the most dangerous I have ever made….The skidding double bank at stalling speed brought her as near spinning as an aeroplane can get without crashing from such a low height.”
At Lahore, RAF mechanics repaired extensive broken stitching along the lower wing and fixed the mud-damaged prop. Heading next for Ambala, their course marked G-EBDE’s closest approach to the mighty Himalayas. In Ambala the RAF handed Blake a substantial bill for fuel and maintenance charges.
After further delays caused by contaminated fuel, and a forced landing on the Delhi racecourse, the airmen flew over the Taj Mahal to arrive in Agra on August 1. Originally on track for Allahabad, they had found their route blocked by a huge mushroom-shaped cloud and so force-landed at Agra, though only after flying through “a rush of water, like a waterfall.” On the ground the saturated fliers discovered that the D.H.9’s engine was beyond repair, with damaged pistons.
As the RAF had no Puma engines in India, it seemed like journey’s end. For once, however, luck was with them. They discovered that the air-minded maharajah of a nearby princely state had a private air force, known locally as the Bharatpur Flying Corps, that owned several war-surplus D.H.9s complete with spare engines. The amiable potentate instantly agreed to help, offering them one of his engines and all necessary technical support. It was nine days before Macmillan and Malins set off again in the refurbished D.H.9 on the final stage of its flight, transiting through Cawnpore, Allahabad and Gaya to Calcutta. Blake was no longer with them at that point an attack of severe abdominal pain had forced him to travel by rail.
The three fliers were briefly reunited in Calcutta on August 12 before Blake entered the hospital with appendicitis. Meanwhile, G-EBDE was auctioned for 2,500 rupees to a Calcutta businessman. Macmillan and Malins set about inspecting and flight-testing the Fairey floatplane, which the RAF had reassembled after its shipment from England as deck cargo. Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to the elements had buckled the starboard float’s plywood covering. Additionally, the internal bulkheads of both floats were warped and rotten. Replacement floats were needed, but waiting for them to be sent from England would have meant postponing the flight until the following year, due to the impossibility of flying the difficult transpacific stage, via the Aleutians and Alaska to Vancouver, in winter. Refusing to give up, the two airmen improvised repairs using pitch, tar and caulking.
RAF mechannics work on the Fairey IIIC. Its floats had been damaged as a result of exposure to the elements during shipment from England to India. (HistoryNet Archives)
On August 19, braving atrocious monsoon weather, they took off from the Hugli River, intending to fly 320 miles southeast across the Bay of Bengal to Akyab, Burma. Defeated by 50-mph headwinds, they altered course to Chittagong, only to be forced down by an airlock in the fuel system. Taxiing to the island of Lukhidia Char, the two airmen spent a cramped night in the floatplane. The next morning they used teacups to bail out the waterlogged starboard float. By then a gale was blowing and they had to postpone taking off until the next day. Another uncomfortable night followed, curled up inside the airplane, with only a little food provided by locals. They awoke to 60-mph winds and rough seas, which meant spending a third night at Lukhidia Char.
Meanwhile, through an English-speaking local, they had managed to send a cable to Calcutta, giving their position and asking Chittagong to look out for them. Unfortunately, as events would show, it failed to convey a sufficient sense of urgency when read by the hospitalized Blake, who informed the Calcutta Statesman newspaper of the message but sent only an abridged version to Chittagong. As an angry Macmillan later recorded, it was couched “in words as nonchalant as if two airmen (who had been missing for four days) might be taking the London tube from Richmond to Victoria.”
Airborne once more on August 22, the fliers were quickly forced down again due to water in the fuel system, and an attempt to taxi to Chittagong was abandoned after their fuel ran out. Soon the defective float again became waterlogged, this time with disastrous consequences. The Fairey capsized, remaining afloat only through the air trapped in its empty fuel tanks.
Summoning up their last reserves, Macmillan and Malins clung to the floats for two long days and nights before they were rescued by Chittagong’s harbormaster, Commander J.C. Cumming, in the steam launch Dorothea. Cumming had read the full account of Macmillan’s cable in the Calcutta Statesman and, comprehending the urgency of the situation, organized an immediate search. The harbormaster later recalled of the airmen, “They were in a very bad state and almost exhausted, tongues swollen and skins turned black by the sun and their feet so badly swollen from contact with salt water that they could scarcely walk, and both had high fever.” An attempt to tow the floatplane soon had to be abandoned due to heavy seas.
Macmillan and Malins convalesce at Chittagong after Commander J.C. Cumming’s steam launch rescued them on August 24. (HistoryNet Archives)
Taken to the hospital in Chittagong, Macmillan and Malins spent the next few days recovering. In the 91 days since departing Croydon they had, through the flight’s numerous diversions and technical problems, covered many hundreds more miles than Blake’s anticipated 6,352 miles for the first stage. Yet G-EBDE was not even the first single-engine aircraft to fly from England across the Indian subcontinent, a distinction that belonged to Australians Ray Purer and John McIntosh for their epic 206-day flight in a D.H.9 to Australia in 1920.
Aeroplane magazine, which ran a satirical cartoon on the flight’s early stages, scoffed at their efforts: “It was foredoomed to failure, and for that reason this paper from the beginning refused to take it seriously.” Of course, the magazine was not alone in that view. But while Aeroplane and other doomsayers were proved right, and the flight had been unquestionably ill-conceived and logistically haphazard, the airmen deserved great credit for their unflinching determination in battling the worst that the weather and the mechanical quirkiness of early aircraft could hand them.
Years later, Macmillan indulged in some wishful hindsight when he wrote, “Cumming saved our lives, but the delay in his receiving our full message lost us the floatplane and ended our attempt to be the first to fly round the world.” Given the generally poor condition of the Fairey IIIC at the start of its flight and the additional harm done to the floats and engine in the Bay of Bengal, it is hard to imagine that, even if the floatplane had been taken securely in tow before it capsized, it could have been restored to flying condition for the arduous transpacific stage before winter set in. Blake’s original plan had envisaged reaching North America in early August.
Blake and Macmillan’s heavy reliance on the RAF for crucial technical support during the Middle Eastern and Indian legs was not forgotten by Air Ministry officials. When in 1924 Squadron Leader Archibald MacLaren proposed flying around the world in a Vickers Vulture amphibian, he was cautioned: “A world flight in which the Air Ministry is in any way involved must succeed, or a tremendous loss of prestige will result….The recent attempt of Blake did immense harm to the cause of aviation in India and the East, and we cannot risk another failure.” (See “All in the Game,” September 2010.)
It would remain for a team of U.S. Army Air Service aviators, flying in purpose-built Douglas World Cruisers, to finally complete the first aerial circumnavigation during 1924. But that’s another story.
RAF veteran Derek O’Connor, who writes from Amersham, Bucks, UK, is a frequent contributor on British aviation topics. For further reading, he recommends: Freelance Pilot and Wings of Fate, both by Norman Macmillan and Flying Round the World, by Major W.T. Blake.
This feature originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.
Around-The-World Flight - History
John T. McCoy’s painting of Clipper America arriving at San Francisco, completing the first commercial airline round-the-world flight, 29 June 1947.
Setting the Stage
With the Fifth Freedom rights granted by Britain in the Bermuda Agreement of 1946, the United States obtained the authority for its international air carriers to pick up passengers in Britain (and in British colonies such as India and Hong Kong) to beyond points in Europe and Asia. What this meant was that Pan American would be able to launch a “round-the-world” service.
At the time, with World War II ended, the U.S. international air transportation system was taking on a whole new complexion. Prior to the war, Pan American Airways was the de facto U.S. flag international air carrier. This was achieved largely by Juan Trippe’s ability to (1) win Foreign Air Mail contracts and (2) negotiate landing concessions with countries of interest. This worked very well in Latin America because for all intents and purposes, Pan American’s activities in the region were in line with the U.S. desire to keep the Germans from establishing any presence there.
With the end of the war, however, as a result of their support to the war effort, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded the likes of TWA, Northwest, United and American Export (AOA, later acquired by Pan American) international routes, much to the chagrin of Pan American. Juan Trippe had fought tooth-and-nail to be the designated U.S. flag international carrier (the “Chosen Instrument”), but was thwarted along the way by politicians and his competition. This story and its political intrigue is covered in detail in The Chosen Instrument, by Marylin Bender and Selig Alschul and An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley.
Nevertheless, Pan American had the beyond authority as granted in the Bermuda Agreement and on 17 June 1947, Juan Trippe departed on the inauguration of Pan American Airways’ round-the-world service, the first for a scheduled commercial airline.
The aircraft used was a Lockheed Constellation model 749, Clipper America, powered by four 2.200-horsepower Wright engines, with a cruising speed of 260 miles per hour and a pressurization system that permitted flying at altitudes between 18,000-20,000 feet.
Clipper America departed from New York’s LaGuardia airport and stopped in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake Island, Midway, Honolulu, San Francisco and Chicago, arriving back in New York on 30 June. The journey entailed 22,170 miles. Not having domestic authority, the flight between San Francisco and New York was a “ferry-flight” and thereafter all of Pan American’s round-the-world flights departed from one coast of the U.S. and terminated on the other.
The round-the-world service was a fixture in Pan American’s timetables from then on, until the final round-the-world flight in October, 1982. During this time, the iconic round-the-world flights 1 and 2 represented the summit of Pan American’s power and glory.
Pan American’s Round-the-World Schedules
Below are descriptions of Pan American’s round-the-world service from selected timetables over the years. While a variety of flight numbers operated on the route, flights 1 and 2 were a constant and are focused on here.
Initially the Constellation and the DC-4 were employed in the round-the-world service, as shown in the June 1948 timetable. On the eastbound flight 2, the Constellation operated from New York to Calcutta and handed over to the DC-4 to continue the route to San Francisco. In the timetable, flight 2 departed New York on Saturday and arrived in Calcutta the following Tuesday, with stops in Gander, London, Brussels, Istanbul, Damascus, Karachi and Delhi. Flight 2 continued its journey to San Francisco, departing Wednesday evening and arriving in San Francisco on Thursday with stops Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo, Wake Island and Honolulu. The flight gained a day crossing the International Date Line between Wake Island and Honolulu. The DC-4 from Calcutta featured “Sleeperette Service”, specially reclining seats with “curtained privacy”.
Constellation (left, source unknown) and DC-4 (right, PAA postcard).
By 1952, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (“Strato Clipper”) was deployed into the service as illustrated in the April 1952 timetable. The westbound flight 1, a Strato Clipper, departed San Francisco on Tuesdays and Thursdays, arriving at Manila on Thursdays and Sundays with stops in Honolulu, Wake Island and Guam. The flight lost Wednesday when crossing the International Date Line. From Honolulu, “Sleeperette Service” was offered. Flight 1 changed gauge at Manila to a DC-4, leaving on Fridays and Mondays for Hong Kong, where a Constellation took over on Mondays for London via Bangkok, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Basra, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Brussels. The flight arrived in London on Wednesday morning where flight 1 was paired with flight 101 for New York with a Strato Clipper. There were optional fuel stops in Shannon or Gander on this segment.
“Strato Clipper” (right, PAA photograph).
By 1954, the Constellation was no longer operating this route and the DC-6B had been introduced, offering “Rainbow” tourist service in addition to the “President” first class service. On the eastbound route, flight 2 was paired with flight 70, a DC-6B offering “Rainbow” service and flight 100, a Strato Clipper offering “President” service, on the New York-London segment. Although the service was offered five days a week, flight two only operated on Mondays. From London, a DC-6B took over and offered both “Rainbow” and “President” service, departing on Tuesday and arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, with stops in Düsseldorf, Istanbul, Beirut, Karachi, Rangoon and Bangkok. From Hong Kong, flight 2 continued to Tokyo where it laid over until Saturday morning when a Strato Clipper continued the flight to Los Angeles via Wake Island and Honolulu. In addition, from Hong Kong on Thursdays, a DC-4, flight 6, operated to Manila, where a Strato Clipper continued to San Francisco via Guam, Wake Island and Honolulu.
DC-6B (right, PAA photograph).
By 1956, the Super Stratocruiser and the DC-7B were operating in the round-the-world service. In the April 1956 timetable, eastbound flight 2 from New York was paired with flights 100, 102 and 64. Flights 100 and 102 were Super Stratocruisers departing on Sundays for London with the latter stopping in Boston and Shannon. Both flights arrived in London on Monday and connected to flight 2, a DC-6B, which departed on Tuesday for Tokyo via Frankfurt, Istanbul, Beirut (receiving traffic from flight 64), Karachi, Rangoon, Bangkok and Hong Kong. At Tokyo, a Strato Clipper took over for the remainder of the trip to Seattle with stops in Wake Island, Honolulu and Portland. Flight 64 was a DC-7B that operated from New York to Beirut where it connected with flight 2. The intermediate stops were Shannon, Paris and Rome. In this timetable, Pan American offered a daily round-the-world service with different flight numbers. With the exception of the service described above, the eastbound flights all terminated in San Francisco.
Super Stratocruiser (left, credit R.A. Scholefield Collection) and DC-7B (right, PAA photograph).
By 1959, the DC-7C and the Boeing 707-121 were seen in the round-the-world service. In the April 1959 timetable, westbound flight 1 operated on Saturdays with a DC-7C from San Francisco to Tokyo with stops in Honolulu and Wake Island. Flight 805, also a DC-7C, operated on Saturdays from Los Angeles to Honolulu, where it connected to flight 1. “Sleeperette Service” was available on both segments. Flight 1 arrived in Tokyo on Monday where a Strato Clipper took over for the segment to Hong Kong where the flight was handed over to a DC-6B. This aircraft continued to London with stops in Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. From London a DC-7C took over for the trip to New York, with stops in Shannon and Boston. In Beirut, flight 1 also connected to flight 115, a service to New York via Rome and Paris. From Beirut a DC-6B operated to Rome. From Rome, a Boeing 707-121 operated to Paris and then on to New York.
DC-7C (left, photo by Allan Van Wickler) and Boeing 707-121 (right, photo by Jon Proctor) at New York.
By 1966, the Boeing 707 and DC-8 were operating a daily all-jet round-the-world service. On Sundays, flight 2 departed New York in the evening and arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday via London, Frankfurt, Vienna, Istanbul, Beirut, Baghdad, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Honolulu. Other stops on the route, depending on the day operated, included Belgrade, Ankara, Tehran, New Delhi, Rangoon and Saigon. By 1971, the Boeing 747 operated flights 1 and 2, between New York and Los Angeles with stops in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and, depending on the day, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran or Beirut, and then Istanbul, Frankfurt and London. After the merger with National Airlines, flights 1 and 2 continued in round-the world service between New York and Los Angeles with 747s, with stops in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and, depending on the day, Bangkok, Delhi, Bombay, Karachi or Bahrain, and then Frankfurt and London. The service also added Las Vegas to the route with a change of gauge to a 727 for the flight from/to Los Angeles.
Boeing 707-321 at New York (top left), DC-8-32 at Los Angeles (top right), Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles (bottom). Photographs by Jon Proctor.
By the end of 1982, Pan American’s iconic round-the-world service was history. Although flights 1 and 2 continued to operate, the service was between New York and London and onward to points on the European continent. With the sale of Pan American’s London Heathrow route to United Airlines, flights 1 and 2 were removed from the timetable.
The last round-the-world flight departed Los Angeles on 27 October 1982. Merle Richmond, who worked in public relations for Pan American, and his two children were passengers on that flight. His memories of that flight, featured in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People are excerpted below:
“They say when French writer Jules Verne wrote Around the World in 80 Days in 1873 it was during a financially difficult time for the classic adventure novelist. Compared to Pan Am’s travails, it was no sweat. He couldn’t have been as financially bad off as Pan Am was over a hundred years later when the airline decided to end its historic Round-the-World Flights One and Two. But whether it was Verne’s novel, which I had read many years earlier, or perhaps Nellie Bly’s 1889 epic 72-day tale which she wrote for her newspaper, the New York World, I was awed by their feat and saw the last Pan Am RTW flights as my final opportunity.
“So it was on a fall evening in 1982 during dinner with my family that I announced that I was going to fly around the world that coming weekend, leaving October 27, 1982, and listened as my 14-year- old daughter Diana quickly asked if she could join me, followed later by my 12-year old son Dwight. Not sure that they understood the magnitude of the undertaking, I explained that the curtailing of Pan Am’s Flights 1 and 2, which had been operating since June 17, 1947, represented surrendering what many considered the most symbolic aspect of the airline. No other airline in the world had previously ever even attempted to make round-the-world service commercially viable. And we would be on the last flight!
“Not only we would be on the final flight, departing Los Angeles that Friday at noon, I told Diana and Dwight that if anybody in recent history had boarded Flight 1 and remained with the plane for the entire duration of the flight until it landed at JFK in New York on Sunday afternoon, I and others I queried, were unaware of such a back-breaking marathon.
“With the advent of jet service in 1958 with the Boeing 707, Pan Am switched departure city of Flight 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Thus the route of the flight would be Los Angeles-Tokyo-Hong Kong-Bangkok- Bombay-Dubai-Istanbul-Frankfurt-London-New York on a Boeing 747.
“And so on Friday, October 28, 1982, with Capt. Carl Wallace in the left hand seat, we joined the world of Verne and Bly. * * * For Diana and Dwight, the RTW trip was an unparalleled emotional and educational experience.
“Some two full days after takeoff in Los Angeles we landed in New York on a brilliant sunny fall day. We had made it in one piece after 56-hours of flying. We had eaten the best airline food in the world (more breakfasts than dinners when you fly west to east). . . [a]nd yes, Diana and Dwight even did some of the homework they brought with them.
“Altogether, 18,647 miles in 39 hours and 30 min. of actual flying time. And who knows how many steaks. Worth every bite!”
For additional information about Pan American World Airways:
To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of
This book is available on eBay .
Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.
Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.
For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation
June 29, 1937: &ldquoI&rsquoll be in the United States in four days,&rdquo said Amelia Earhart early this morning, just before she and navigator Fred Noonan took off from Port Darwin, Australia.
Thus began the final, and most challenging part of their around-the-world flight. Every mile after Port Darwin is over vast stretches of water, and requires finding and then landing on islands until they arrive back in Oakland, California, where they began on May 20.
Fortunately, the first island they needed to find was a large one&mdashNew Guinea&mdashand the flight to Lae was only 1,207 miles, ending safely 7 hours and 43 minutes after it began. But their next hop will be over twice as long&mdash2,556 miles&mdashand the target will be a 450-acre&mdashseven tenths of a square mile&mdashdot in the South Pacific called Howland Island.
This will be her second attempt to fly there, the first ending in a runway crash on takeoff from Hawaii. That was actually the second near-disaster of her ill-fated first effort. After setting the record for the fastest flight from Oakland to Hawaii, it was found upon landing that the propeller bearings were almost dry. Had that not been discovered, and her takeoff to Howland been successful, she might have suddenly gone down at some remote location in the Pacific with no one ever knowing what happened to her.
That first attempt&mdashin which she flew in a Westerly direction&mdashobviously had to be abandoned, and the plane returned to the U.S. for extensive repairs before starting the trek again. This time she&rsquos circling the globe by going East due to the prevailing winds being different in June than in March.
After Howland, it&rsquos on to Hawaii&mdash1,900 miles) and Oakland&mdasha 2,410-mile flight from Hawaii. According to Earhart:
&ldquoFrom Lae to Howland Island will be the worst section of the flight, but with Freddy Noonan navigating, I&rsquom confident we will make it.&rdquo
When she arrived in Port Darwin yesterday, after a 500-mile flight from Timor, in the Dutch East Indies, she said:
&ldquoIt&rsquos been a very interesting flight. But for slight mechanical trouble, which was remedied in Bandoeng, Java, we have experienced no hold-ups. We&rsquove been sitting down waiting for Australia to turn up and we&rsquoll push on to Lae, New Guinea. I&rsquom not taking any risks, but am flying as fast as possible.&rdquo
She has been writing regular reports on her flight, eagerly read in newspapers around the U.S. This is a sample from yesterday:
&ldquoPORT DARWIN (Northern Territory, Australia) June 28.
&ldquoWe crossed the Timor Sea from Koepang on Timor Island, in 3 h. 29 m., against strong head winds. We flew over fleecy clouds at a height of 7,000 feet, and possibly this was one reason why we saw no sharks, concerning which everyone had warned us.
&ldquoThe country hereabout is very different from that surrounding Koepang. There, jagged mountains rose against the dawn, while here, as far as one can see, are endless trees on an endless plain.
&ldquoTomorrow we must be off at dawn. I fear I must leave Australia without seeing a koala bear or Miss Jean Batten [flyer]. I hope to return some time to accomplish these two desires.&rdquo
Tonight, mechanics are doing an extremely thorough check of her plane. If there are no mechanical problems found, and no weather delays, she and Noonan will take off as soon as possible for Howland. They are determined to stay on schedule for what should be a well-attended, well-deserved and triumphant reception when they land in Oakland and become the first to fly around the world as close to the Equator as possible.
Earhart has not been specific about her post-flight plans beyond saying that she is looking forward to enjoying the Independence Day holiday with her husband, George Palmer Putnam. But her strong and long-time commitment to equality for women in general, and to the Equal Rights Amendment in particular, should insure that she will have plenty of work ahead, even if, as she said recently:
&ldquoI have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system and I hope this trip is it. Anyway, when I have finished this job, I mean to give up long-distance stunt flying.&rdquo
The first recorded around the world hot air balloon flight was achieved in 1999 when Swiss Betrand Piccard and British Brian Jones teamed up and broke the record. They launched on Monday, March 1st from Chateau d'Oex in the Swiss Alps and after 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes, successfully landed over Mauritania in North Africa. They became the first balloonists to circumnavigate the globe with a non-stop, non-refueled flight, having travelled a ground breaking distance of 42,810 KM.
Steve Fossett became the first balloonist to travel round the world in a hot air balloon on a solo flight. Having tried a previous 6 times, this was a great achievement for him when he landed on Tuesday 2nd July 2002, becoming the first and still only person to have managed to travel around the world solo in a hot air balloon.
First Successful Around The World Solo Attempt
Steve Fossett is known for being one of the greatest adventurers of our time, with numerous achievements and records to his name, all in the field of aviation. He became the first balloonist to travel round the world by himself in a hot air balloon.
The balloon, The Spirit Of Freedom used a combination of hot air and helium, known in the industry as a 'Roziere' balloon. The balloon envelope was 140 ft tall and 60 ft wide. The balloon used a special onboard autopilot system called 'Comstock Autopilot' which can maintain the balloon at a constant altitude by using a computer to control the burners.
The balloon was launched from Northam, Western Australia and the projected flight was to cross the Pacific first and then to travel across Chile, down round Argentina and the Southern Atlantic Ocean. From here would then fly towards South Africa, over the Indian Ocean and would finally end up back in Australia at a longitudinal equal to or farther east than where the journey had begun.
The conditions onboard the basket (or gondola as it is referred to in this case) were far from luxurious! The actual gondola itself was no larger than a normal sized closet. Fossett would on average, manage about 4 hours of sleep each day, in broken down segments of 45 minutes naps. It would have been extremely cramped living in such a confined space. On top of all this, the temperature outside the balloon would have been well below zero and Fossett would have had to regularly climb outside the gondola to change fuel or to check on the burners.
Below, pilot Steve Fossett standing on the gondola of the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom balloon, just after landing down in Australia on July 4th 2002. He became the first person in the world to complete a circumnavigation of the globe in a hot air balloon, completed in just under 15 days.
Here is a brief history of Steve Fossett's attempts at the RTW (round the world) challenge, a total of 5 times before he finally completed the task in 2002. He also set another 2 ballooning records whilst on his 6th circumnavigation attempt - details below.