This Day In History: April 6

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On April 6, 1924, eight American pilots depart Seattle’s Sand Point Naval Air Station in four modified Navy torpedo bombers, in hopes of becoming the first people to travel around the entire globe by air—something attempted unsuccessfully by several European flyers in previous years. After 175 days (flying time: 371 hours 11 minutes), and a few hiccups along the way, they completed the mission.

The team of aviators from the U.S. Army Air Service took off in the four Douglas World Cruiser planes—made, in part, out of Sitka spruce trees from the Pacific Northwest—on an unusual westerly flight path rather than the usual easterly attempt. Despite bad weather, the pilots of the planes – called the Seattle, the Boston, the Chicago and the New Orleans – departed for Alaska. The Seattle sadly crashed into a mountain on the Alaska Peninsula. Its pilot—Major Frederick Martin, who was also the mission commander—survived 10 days in the wilderness, along with Staff Sergeant Alva Harvey, before being rescued. The other three planes went on to Japan, where their engines and pontoons were replaced. In India, the three planes got new engines and wings, and the pontoons were swapped for wheels.

The rest of the journey took the crew across modern-day Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The pilots landed in Paris on July 14 for Bastille Day, then went on to London and Hull, England. There, the planes got pontoons re-installed and launched to cross the Atlantic Ocean . The Boston had to land between the Faroe Islands and Iceland; the crew was rescued, but the aircraft sank. The prototype Douglas World Cruiser tester plane was renamed Boston II and replaced the sunken craft. Boston II joined the other two remaining planes for their victory lap across North America. The three planes landed on September 28 at Sand Point to a jubilant welcome. The journey covered about 27,000 miles and included 74 landings in 22 countries.

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