The Douglas World Cruiser Chicago

On April 6, 1924, eight U.S. Army Air Service pilots and mechanics in four airplanes left Seattle, Washington, to carry out the first circumnavigation of the globe by air. They completed the journey 175 days later on September 28, after making 74 stops and covering about 27,550 miles. Learn more about the first flight around the world.

To handle the harsh conditions of a flight around the world, the U.S. Army Air Service needed a strong, reliable aircraft. Lt. Erik Nelson, who would pilot the Douglas World Cruiser New Orleans, worked with Donald Douglas to modify his DT-2 torpedo bomber design into a World Cruiser.

The new aircraft had increased fuel and cooling capacity, a tubular steel fuselage, strengthened bracing, a larger rudder, a cutout in the upper wing to increase visibility, and closer dual cockpit locations. Because the flight would take place over land and water, the aircraft also featured interchangeable floats and wheels. The Douglas Company delivered a prototype and four World Cruisers at a cost of $192,684.

The War Department presented the Chicago to the Smithsonian Institution in 1925.

Aircraft Details
Wing span: 15.2 m (50 ft)
Length: 10.8 m (35 ft 6 in)
Height: 4.1 m (13 ft 7 in)
Weight (empty): 1,543 kg (4,380 lb)
Weight (gross): 3,317 kg (6,915 lb)
Top speed: 167 km/h (104 mph)
Engine: Liberty V-12, 420 hp
Crew: 2
Manufacturer: Douglas Co., Santa Monica, Calif., 1924

The World Cruiser airplanes used two types of propellers: oak with the pontoons, because it is very sturdy and resistant to sea spray; and walnut with the wheels, because it is lighter and better propeller wood.

The Chicago was piloted by Lt. Lowell Smith and Lt. Leslie P. Arnold, but Arnold was not originally assigned to this mission. Sgt. Arthur Turner was assigned to the Chicago but fell ill just before the flight. His name is still painted on the airplane, below the Chicago’s second cockpit.

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