First Flight Around the World: The Douglas World Cruisers at Pearson Field

Black and white photo of biplane
The "Seattle" at Vancouver Barracks. The remains of the World War I Spruce Mill at Vancouver Barracks can be seen in the background.

Courtesy of Willard Carroll

The first circumnavigation of the globe by air was achieved in 1924 by a team of aviators from the U.S. Army Air Service. The trip lasted 175 days, covered approximately 27,000 miles, and included landings in 22 different countries. It was an incredible feat, requiring careful selection and training of flight crews, diplomacy, and logistical planning.

As plans for the flight were developed, the U.S. War Department realized that none of their existing military planes could complete the flight. Plans for a new, more capable airplane were requested from manufacturers around the world. Donald Douglas was awarded the contract for his design of a modified DT-2 torpedo bomber his company had built for the U.S. Navy in 1921 and 1922. A fleet of five aircraft were delivered: one for testing and training, and four for the expedition itself.

The Douglas World Cruisers were constructed of Sitka spruce from the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest. They were sturdy aircraft that could accommodate interchangeable landing gear - wheels and pontoons - which was an absolute requirement. In 1924, there were still relatively few developed airfields around the world, and much of the proposed route would require water landings for refueling.
Photo of man in flight suit standing next to a biplane aircraft
A Douglas World Cruiser is serviced at Vancouver Barracks.

Courtesy of Willard Carroll.

Black and white photo of logo with a globe and two eagles. Text around the image reads "Air Service U.S.A. World Flight"
This logo was painted on the side of the Douglas World Cruiser aircraft.

Courtesy of Willard Carroll

Landing at Vancouver Barracks

Three Douglas World Cruisers left Santa Monica, California, on March 17, 1924, heading for Seattle, the official start point of the flight. Three of the aircraft - the Seattle, Chicago, and Boston - landed at the Vancouver Barracks Aerodrome (now known as Pearson Field) on March 19, 1924. They attempted to continue to Seattle that afternoon, but were forced back to Vancouver due to bad weather. They took off again the next morning, and made it safely to Seattle.

"The flight arrived at Vancouver, Wash., at 12:05 p.m., time of flight being 1 hour, 5 minutes. Vancouver is directly across the Columbia River from Portland. We were met by the mayor of Portland, the mayor of Vancouver, General Kuhn, the Commanding General of Vancouver Barracks, and many others of prominence in addition to a large crowd from Portland and Vancouver."

-Major F.L. Martin, Army Air Service, Pilot of the Seattle

The images of the Seattle and the Boston in this article were taken at Vancouver Barracks. These two aircraft suffered accidents during the flight, and neither of them completed the journey.

The two World Cruisers that completed the journey - the Chicago and the New Orleans - made Vancouver Barracks their last stop before their triumphant return to Seattle, landing at the Vancouver Barracks Aerodrome on September 28, 1924.

Black and white photo of biplane aircraft. A group of people stand behind the aircraft.
The "Boston" at Vancouver Barracks.

Courtesy of Willard Carroll.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: December 22, 2017