Around The World in 175 Days

Worlds First Circumnavigation Aerial Flight

This story is the 1924 equivalent of landing a man on the moon

Keys to Success:

  • Four planes instead of one
  • Flying west vs east to time the seasonal weather
  • Logistical supply chain
  • Diplomatic cooperation
  • Pilots with exceptional navigational skills (Lowell Smith)
  • Copilots with exceptional mechanical skills (Jack Harding)
  • The Donald Douglas aircraft
  •  Interchangeable pontoons and wheels
  • Luck and divine providence
3D Model of The New Orleans

Four of these Douglas World Cruisers, with eight men (I refer to as The Douglas 8), set off on an international race April 6, 1924 from Sand Point Field in Seattle Washington: The Boston, The Chicago, The New Orleans and The Seattle. After heading west for 175 days, 26,300 miles, 28 countries landed in, The Chicago and New Orleans set back down in Seattle, 28 September 1924. The Seattle crashed into an Alaskan Mountain near Dutch Harbor and The Boston went down in the North Atlantic. All crews survived. The Boston II replaced the original and continued on later down the road.

The international competitors were: Argentina, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal.

(L-R) Sgt. Arthur Turner, Sgt. Ogden (later Lieutenant), Lieutenants Leslie Arnold, Leigh Wade and Lowell Smith; Maj. Frederick Martin; and Sgt. Alva Harvey. Lieutenants Nelson and Harding are absent.
Sand Point near Seattle, Washington – Wade, Smith, Martin and Harvey

Fuel stops included many ship to seaplane transfers. This flight included the first aerial refueling in aviation history.

The route had pre-positioned logistical bases, divided into 7 divisions around the world, including ground support with spare engines and parts along the way. Maintenance was the key to success, and the reason an onboard co-pilot/mechanic was so vital to the mission.

Onboard Mechanics Gear
Prince Rupert, B.C. April 1924 (ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the US Air Force Museum

World Cruise Route – Courtesy of:

(ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

In Tokyo (Tokio)

No event during our hurried visit to the capital of Japan impressed us so deeply as the luncheon given in our honor by the Faculty of the University of Tokio, at which the President, Dr. Yoshinao Kozai, addressed us in English as follows:

Officers of the Army Air Service of the United States, It is an honor and great delight to us to welcome you to our University – you, who have come to our shores over the seas, through the air. All here assembled, both the Faculty and the members of the Aeronautical Research Institute of Japan, cannot but admire your dauntless spirit and congratulate you on the success you have achieved.

At the same time we envy you, for your daring is backed by science. Indeed it is the happy union of courage and knowledge that has gained you your success and this honor of being the first of men to connect the two shores of the Pacific Ocean through the sky. This same spirit and skill, I am sure, will soon make you the pioneers of aerial flight around the globe.

Looking a little into the past, it is to your nation that the honor is due for having produced the pioneers of aviation, Langley and the Wright brothers, and during the two decades that have followed their first successes in the air, the progress of aviation accelerated by your fellow citizens has been simply marvelous. Your pioneership is a manifestation of your valor which implies daring and indefatigable spirit in conjunction with deliberation and endurance. Your success is not merely a result of adventure, but it is the fruit of study and research in the wide and complicated domains of physics, chemistry, mechanics, and meteorology.

Gentlemen! Your honor is, of course, the pride of your nation; but the honor and pride are to be shared by all mankind, because they are a manifest expression of moral and intellectual powers in the human race – the will, ability, research, means and methods, all illustrate through your success man’s control over nature.

More than four hundred years ago slow sailing vessels carried Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic. Two centuries later, your pioneers crossed the Rockies with weary horses and carts.

Nearly a half-century elapsed before the two oceans, the Pacific and Atlantic, were connected by rail. And now you are encircling the earth by machines flying through the sky.

Again I say, we admire and envy you. Again I say that your honor is to be shared by all mankind.

Wing west ward, farther and farther to your home! Then start anew toward the west and come again to our shores, then on to our neighbors and to yours, and through all the continents of the world! Thus through your efforts and successes will the nations of the earth be made closer friends and neighbors.

To the west, east, north, and south, we shall everywhere follow your journeys with admiration and congratulation! We bid you God-speed!” – from The First World Flight by Lowell Smmith

World flyers (left to right) Lieutenant Jack Harding, Lieutenant Eric Nelson, Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Major Frederick Martin, First Lieutenant Leslie Arnold, Lieutenant Lowell Smith. They are wearing black armbands in honor of former US president, Woodrow Wilson, who had recently passed away.

Forced landing near Hue, Vietnam. Improvising a bridge to replace the Liberty 12 engine of #2 Chicago. June 1924 (ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum
Liberty 12 Cylinder Engine, 400 Horse Power – National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida


“Below us passed many another caravan. ‘When the airplane comes into its own, as it is sure to do within a few years. one wonders what will become of that most picturesque of men, the desert Arab. Journeys that take him two months can now be made by airplane between sunrise and sunset. Within a short time, planes will be so cheap that even the Bedouin sheik will own one, or several. Then the day of desert raids and racing camels will have passed, because the sheik with his swift pursuit planes will be able to overtake and wipe out his enemy within a few minutes. Both the British in Mesopotamia and the French at Aleppo told us that the Arabs were extremely interested in flying developments. When taken up in a plane the average sheik keeps begging the pilot to go higher and faster.”The First World Flight

The Chicago flying from Aleppo to The Golden Horn


“Although the rain and wind were coming from the north and west, we knew they might shift any moment. So, of course, it was impossible to tell where we might drift. It had been our custom to cut our maps into strips and roll them so they would be easy to handle in the cockpit as we flew. They were large scale, and whenever flying over thoroughly explored regions showed every village, mountain, stream, or other landmark. The strip we had along on this hop to Iceland included nothing but the Orkneys, the Faroes, and the eastern end of Iceland. So we could only make a rough guess as to how far we were from the nearest mainland.

We now did a thing that caused the rest of the fellows afterward to dub us the world’s greatest optimists. “Hank” climbed out of his cockpit, hung on to the edge of it with one hand, opened the tool compartment, and ferreted out a very small-scale National Geographic Society map of the world which we had carried all the way with us. On this map we measured off the distance we were from the coast of Norway, and calculated that with favorable winds we might possibly exist -until we drifted to those shores, providing, of course, that we could keep the plane intact that long.”The First World Flight

Lt. John Harding 2nd from left and Lt. Eric Nelson (center) Reykjavík, Iceland in route. Shortly after this photo, the Italian’s would crash into the sea.

Iceland to Greenland

Captain Lyman A. Cotton, in command of the Admiral’s flagship Richmond, described this stretch from Iceland to Greenland as ‘the longest and most difficult leg of the trans-Atlantic flight’:

Eight hundred and thirty-five statute miles across an ocean covered by ice and beset with fog and cold, it was truly a flight to test the skill and courage of the hardiest aviator. As the Chicago and New Orleans, swept by the Richmond close enough to the bridge for every feature of the aviators to be recognized, it made a lump come in one’s throat to realize how fragile were these man-made ships of the air and how many miles of restless waters lay ahead of them before they reached Fredricksdal.

The Lost Italians

“Captain Cotton, skipper of the flagship Richmond, tells us what happened on that eventful night: ‘Midnight. Cold, and cheerless. The Richmond ploughing through the trackless sea one hundred and twenty miles east of Cape Farewell, Greenland, searching for a tiny object bearing four human lives, Just now for three and a half days. A momentary flicker of light on the horizon ten miles away. The Richmond turns and speeds toward the spot, throbbing with her hundred thousand horsepower. A red star, fired into the air, lights up our decks with lurid light, as officers, men, correspondents, and camera-men rush up on deck half-clad, hair disheveled, with heavy overcoats and trailing blankets hastily thrown around them. An answering star from the darkness ahead. Can it be that the lost are found? Can it be? Our searchlights feel along the horizon, groping over the hostile sea that is loath to surrender its prey. The light touches a small object, bobbing about like a cork on the water. All eyes are strained toward the plane, through moments of tense silence. How slowly it seems to draw near! The beams of our searchlights catch it again as it rises to the crest of a breaker, and this time we see the red, white, and green rudder of the Italian monoplane. One, two, three, four – the crew are all visible now. All are alive and safe!’

We can imagine with what a sense of triumph Captain Cotton rang down the ‘Stop’ signal to the engineers, when success thus crowned his efforts after eighty hours of search. The Richmond pulls up, with a surge of water from her reversed propellers, not ten yards from the Dornier-Wall and is greeted by a veritable salvo of Italian. A line is tossed from ship to plane. {Locatelli subsequently said, ‘This line was like the first thread connecting us with life again.) Helping hands are extended, for two of the crew are so exhausted that they have to be lifted limply on board in nets. Movie-men crank their machines in the light of the aurora borealis which is dancing its strange reel in the Arctic sky. There under the northern lights, on the Richmond’s deck, stand Locatelli and his crew, heavy-eyed, and utterly spent, but safe. For three long nights they have kept their watch with Death in a sea-swept cockpit: now they are in the world of men again.”The First World Flight

Jack and his adopted Greenland Family

The Last Hazard

On Defense Day, the boys flew over Washington to Arlington, where on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
they dropped flowers which Mrs. Coolidge had sent them from the White House. No other planes were allowed in the air at the same time, so that the people of Washington might have an opportunity of seeing the Cruisers.

Returning to Bolling Field, they motored to the Peace Monument and rode in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Next day they left for their westward flight. ‘So far as there may have been any hazard in it, says Erik Nelson, ‘the most dangerous leg of the remaining journey lay directly ahead of us on September 13th when we left Washington and rammed our noses into the fog west of Harper’s Ferry. Crossing the Alleghenies in the best of weather has its risks. But Lowell led us through or we should have had to turn back, as did the escort planes.

Just after leaving Cumberland, Maryland, the weather was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. We tried to climb over the fog, but it reached beyond our ceiling. Then we tried hugging the tree-tops. Smith had never been across this particular section before. When it proved impossible for us to proceed straight ahead without running considerable risk of hitting a mountain the five escort planes left us, but Smith, with the aid of his map and the uncanny faculty he has for finding his way in any weather, turned to the right until we picked up a canyon, and flying just high enough off a railroad to avoid trains and telegraph poles, he managed to lead us through the pass, single file, to Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The five escort planes, unable to find a way through, returned to Washington and followed us the next day.

The British Comendation

C. G. Gray, editor of ‘The Aeroplane,’ and one of Britain’s foremost aeronautical authorities, wrote of the
It was the Americans, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who were the first to fly an aeroplane under proper control. It was an American crew under Commander Read in a Curtiss-built flying-boat who first flew the Atlantic. And it is in accord with precedent that an American team should be the first to circle the
globe by air. What could be more natural? Such feats are achieved by grit, energy, pertinacity, determination, endurance, and faith. Such human qualities, and especially faith in one’s future, are
precisely those which inspired the ancestors of these men to pull themselves up by the roots and press ever Westward to the promised land. Always the wave of conquest has flowed Westward, and perhaps
there is a significance in the fact that this flight should encircle the earth in the direction in which all our ancestors have traveled.

Miss San Francisco kisses each of the DWC flyers
Nashville Banner – December 24, 1924

John Richard Harding, IV

Jack Harding was not only selected because he was an Army pilot, but more importantly, he was the best aviation mechanic the Army had.

Jack Harding was the great-grandson of General William Giles Harding of the Belle Meade Plantation fame. But Jack’s family fortune was gone by the time he came of-age. He would be a self-made man. He worked his way through the Webb Preparatory School outside of Nashville cutting wood for the school and working as a locksmith locally. He paid for mechanical engineering school at Vanderbilt University working in a Nashville garage. He attended the University of Tennessee’s engineering school as well before going to Detroit to gather more funds to resume his studies at Vanderbilt. World War I broke out in 1917 of his upcoming Junior year. Jack enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.

Jack’s first duty was as that of an Army cook at Fort Oglethorpe, GA and then a ditch digger at Kelly Field, TX. He was soon discovered to be a mechanical genius. He fixed a Martin bomber engine that nobody else could figure out. This event made a big impression with The Brass. He was promoted to Sergeant and assigned aviation maintenance school. He made aircraft master signal electrician, and aviation mechanician and sent to the Wright Brothers Field in Dayton, Ohio.

His mother Roberta later told the story of a 10 year old Jack disassembling her sewing machine into hundreds of pieces. After a serious trip to the woodshed by his father, he put it back together in better condition than before.

Because of his mechanical expertise, he was chosen as a back-seat mechanic for the first circumnavigation of the continental United States in 1919 (The Around the Rim Flight). He acquired 500+ hours of flying time, which set him up for selection of the prestigious round-the-world race of 1924 by pilot Lt. Eric Nelson.

Other competing countries, that had either tried it, or were planning it included Argentina, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal. The Army Air Service, as it was known then, enlisted the help of the Army, Navy, Diplomatic Corps, Bureau of Fisheries, and Coast Guard as well as 28 countries to pull this colossal achievement off. It was the 1920’s equivalent of sending a man to the moon. Download the PDF below for more details on this unprecedented historical event.

Jack Harding later went on to work for Boeing and several other aircraft manufactural companies. In 1942 he founded Harding Devices Company in Dallas, Texas with his brother William, where they developed a revolutionary electric fuel valve that was used on the B-29, and other World War II airplanes.

Harding also ventured into real estate and is said to be the “Idea Man” behind the Memphis based Holiday Inn hotels. His vision was a quality hotel for aircraft travelers. He owned at least one of them in Dallas.

He also founded Florida Airways with the WWI legend Eddie Rickenbacker, flying routes throughout the southeastern United States. It was later absorbed by Eastern Airlines.

Nelson, Arnold, Harding, ?, Martin and Wade. Seems to be a reunion circa 1950 (ai enhanced). – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

He died in 1968 in La Jolla, California in his posh beach side high rise apartment building he built in 1966. His ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean after his death.

• U.S. Distinguished Service Medal
• Flying Cross of Japan
• The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Japan
• French Legion of Honor, France
• The McKay Trophy for outstanding service to the United States
(partial list)

• Order of the Daedalian, and Daedalian Foundation
Quiet Birdman, Card #514
• 32nd Degree Mason
• Wings Club
• Explorer Club
• Sigma Chi Fraternity, Vanderbilt University
(many others)

Lt.’s Jack Harding & Walter Williams 105th JN-4H – Photo courtesy of the Nashville Library & Archives (ai enhanced)

In the picture above, the look seems like a disapproving Jack. I can only imagine some idiot photographer saying something, trying to be witty, like “hey blue eye” (singular). Jack only had one blue eye, one brown. Besides issues with his fathers defeats, and this physical oddity, these things probably humbled Jack – and made him so endearing to people in general.

Jack Harding, a de Havilland DH-4 and a 1925 Cadillac probably at the 105th Blackwood Field Hermitage, TN – Photo Courtesy of the Nashville Library & Archives

Jack & the 105th OBS Tennessee National Guard

Lt. Harding was a good friend of the Tennessee National Guard 105th Observation Squadron and seems to have flown with our group on a number of occasions. The 105th had many notable Nashville member family legacies like General Vincent Meloy, Colonel Walter Williams, Captains Jim Reed and Herbert Fox, Sr. Lieutenants John Oman III and Harry Dyer.

The most celebrated 105th veteran was the legendary 1st Lt. Bob Hoover. Like Jack Harding, Bob paid his own way in the world, unlike most of the blue-blood flyers of Nashville. General Jimmy Doolittle once said, Bob was the best stick and rudder pilot ever born. The 105th “Old Hickory Squadron” is the 3rd oldest Air National Guard aviation squadron in the United States, although their drone pilots and weapon system operators no longer leave the ground thousands of miles away from the targets that they pursue.

Letter from Jack Harding to 105th OBS “Walt” Williams enroute in present day Vietnam 11 June 1924. At this location in Indo-China, Jack and Lowell were denied entrance to an event by the French because they were coming back from their aircraft repair in soiled clothing.
– courtesy of the Nashville Archives

Read more about the 1924 World Cruise here:

A few years ago this video was produced. We are actually coming up on the 100th anniversary now:

Courtesy of

Visualize this:

Returning to Santa Monica:

“Jack and the others landed on beds of rose petals, with guards surrounding the entire landing area. No sooner had the Aviators crawled from their cockpits, than the crowds went wild. With a screaming roar, the people, some of whom had waited for hours, knocked down the fence, knocked down the police, knocked down he struggling soldiers, and then knocked down the Fliers. They tried to pull the three planes apart for souvenirs and when they were stopped they turned on the Magellan’s. Men, women and children of all ages tore off bits clothing and snipped off buttons. Some lady cut a chunk of Jack’s collar, while another took hold of his ear and was going to take a piece of that until Jack yelled. Somebody even took a keepsake out of the seat of his pants. But things did improve when a slew of beautiful gals reached Jack and smothered him with kisses.” From: A MAGELLAN OF THE AIR – By KATHARINE SHELBURNE TRICKEY

The New Orleans (ai enhanced). – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

Special thanks to Ridley Wills III, Bob Dempster, Tim Childers, Will McLaughlin of the USAF Museum, Ken Fieth and the Nashville Library & Archives for their help in researching this amazing chapter in aviation history.

– Bob Henderson, Captain 105th Squadron Navigator (ret.) @belmontguy


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