The First Nonstop Transcontinental Flight

U.S. Army Air Service pilots Lt. John A. Macready and Lt. Oakley G. Kelly made the first nonstop transcontinental flight on May 2–3, 1923, in the T-2 transport. They took off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, and landed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, 2,470 miles and just under 27 hours later. During the flight, Macready and Kelly faced flying over unknown territory at night and through storms and rain for over half the flight.

The Army Air Service approved the flight to test the capability and endurance of Macready and Kelly, the new T-2 transport, and the Liberty engine. The two pilots and the T-2 also demonstrated the potential of military and commercial aircraft as practical long-distance technologies.

John Macready and Oakley Kelly took off from Roosevelt Field for their third transcontinental attempt on May 2, 1923.

The Flight
The T-2 had used up most of its fuel by the time Macready and Kelly reached the Continental Divide in Arizona, making the airplane lighter and easier to control as they crossed the highest point of the flight at 10,200 feet.

Look for the big black pipe coming out of the cockpit. This is the exhaust pipe for the main engine. It may seem oddly placed next to the pilot, but it safely directed the hot exhaust away from the plane’s flammable surface. The pilots had to endure 26 hours of constant noise and heat from the engine.

How did the pilots communicate? Look for the two cockpits. If the pilot in the front cockpit felt the control stick “waggle” between his knees, he knew to look for a note from his co-pilot attached to a string that ran to the rear cockpit.

Do you see the open cockpit in the front? The pilots could fly from either seat, but they could not see from the back. They had to crawl through a “tunnel” to switch seats, which they did several times during the 26-hour flight. Look at the monitor to see the inside of the plane.