Monday, December 1, 2003

Aviation firsts


By Mardell Haskins

Even though there was not much new manufacturing occurring in the 1920s, there was, however, a steady stream of aviation "firsts" that went a long way towards encouraging aviation and also spurred on limited manufacturing of a variety of different types of airplanes over the later half of the first decade and through the entire second decade of aviation.

"Today, the top three holders of world aviation records are all women."

The aircraft industry slowly continued to improve and grow with the emphasis on the development of larger airplanes to carry passengers and haul freight. The speed of airplanes went from a walking speed in 1903-1905 to 75 mph in 1912-1914, to over 100 mph or better by 1924.

The world of aviation was changing so fast it was dizzying to keep up with it. Practically every flight was a record breaking flight of some kind. A number of men and women were made famous by their flying exploits overnight. Some of the most famous and notable were Charles Lindbergh, Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Richard Byrd, Wiley Post, Jimmy Doolittle, Louise Thaden, Bobbie Trout, and Jacqueline Cochran. America's love affair with aviation was rekindled. It even inspired songs, stories, and poems.

In 1923, the Army Air Service decided it wanted to attempt a flight around the world to see if it was possible to carry passengers and freight around the world. On April 6, 1924, four open cockpit Douglas World Crusier Bi-planes, christened the Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and the New Orleans, left Seattle to begin an incredible, difficult, and dangerous journey around the world. Each airplane, equipped with both wheels and pontoons, was piloted by an Army officer, with a mechanic as a second crew member. The pilots had requested the second crewman be a mechanic, not a pilot.

In the year the Army spent planning the flight, they sent five or six advance teams to bring a mountain of supplies and fuel to numerous locations along the intended route. The route was divided into six sections or regions, with a major station in each section.

The logistics of this operation in 1923 must have been monumental. The Army Air Service moved 15 engines, 14 sets of pontoon, several sets of wings, a dozen propellers, enough airframe material to completely rebuild two airplanes, and numerous other parts and supplies to various strategic places along the route. The route went up the West Coast of Canada and Alaska, then across the northern Pacific to Japan.