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Today in Transportation History: May 3, 1923

May 3, 2012 03:24 PM
Today in Transportation History: May 3, 1923

The first non-stop transcontinental flight across the U.S. was completed when U.S. Army Air Service Lieutenants Oakley G. Kelly and John A. Macready landed their single-engine, high-wing Army Fo...kker T-2 plane at Rockwell Field near San Diego, California. That landing took place 26 hours, 50 minutes, and 48 seconds after they had left Mitchel Field on Long Island. Kelly and Macready made the 2625-mile trip across the U.S. without weather reports, flying instruments, any radio, or parachutes.

In addition, their 49-foot-long aircraft was carrying 780 gallons of fuel, 32 gallons of oil, and 25 gallons of water. The weight was so heavy, as a matter of fact, that Kelly and Macready had to travel early on just above the ground. Nonetheless, they managed to operate the plane's Liberty engine at 90 percent power the entire way. After Kelly and Macready arrived in California, Rockwell Field's commandant Major Henry "Hap" Arnold (an aviation pioneer in his own right and the future Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II) made it through the welcoming crowd to greet the record-setting pilots. "Congratulations!" said Arnold. "It was a marvelous flight and we are surely proud of you." One newspaper article echoed widespread media emphasis on that aviation milestone's military significance by noting that "a non-stop transcontinental air voyage indicates the feasibility of transporting men, messages, equipment or any other vital necessity from one coast to the other in an incredibly short space of time." That newspaper account also highlighted the commercial importance of that flight by reporting that "the accomplishment of the two pilots is expected to encourage aircraft companies to organize aerial transport services and establish an increased number of landing fields and air routes all over the country." Kelly would pilot the same plane used for that flight the following year when he took 93-year-old Ezra Meeker over portions of the Oregon Trail. Meeker had traveled that trail by wagon back during the 1850s, and he and Kelly flew along the historic route to foster support for marking and preserving it.



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