On this day in 1943, Franklin Roosevelt becomes the first president to travel on official business by airplane. Crossing the Atlantic by air, Roosevelt flew in a Boeing 314 Flying Boat dubbed the Dixie Clipper to a World War II strategy meeting with Winston Churchill at Casablanca in North Africa. With German U-boats taking a heavy toll on American marine traffic in the Atlantic, Roosevelt’s advisors reluctantly agreed to send him via airplane. Roosevelt, at a frail 60 years old, gamely made the arduous 17,000-mile round trip.
The secret and circuitous journey began on January 11, with the plane stopping several times over four days to refuel and for its passengers to rest. Roosevelt and his entourage left Florida, touched down in the Caribbean, continued down the southern coast of South America to Brazil and then flew across the Atlantic to Gambia. They reached Casablanca on January 14. After a successful meeting with Churchill, as well as some sightseeing and visits to the troops, Roosevelt retraced the route back to the United States, celebrating his 61st birthday somewhere over Haiti.