Dateline Seattle: April 6, 1924

His 32nd birthday—and what a present for Donald Douglas.

The Douglas World Cruisers, now the four of them assembled at Sandy Point, in Washington State, floated at their moorings on April 4, with fog conspiring to ground them for the day.

The crowd dispersed, only to return the next morning. Would this be it? April 5? But no, that morning, Major F.L. Martin—the flight’s commander—broke the prop on ship number one, the Seattle.

The morning of the 6th held promise, and the promise held as the quartet departed at long last, to the cheers of the crowd.

Donald Douglas and Lt. Eirk Nelson share a candid moment on departure day. [Credit: Douglas/”Sky Master”]

An image of Douglas and Nelson shows the easy stance between them—they’d struck up a friendship during Nelson’s months of duty in stationed in California preparing the ships for the flight. Douglas’ face remains gaunt, perhaps from the illness he’d just come through, or from the stress and worry ahead of the biggest moment of his professional life to that point.

Bets went against the four airplanes making it around the world—or even making it through Alaska. But they launched for Prince Rupert, British Columbia, under the escort of a gaggle of well-wishing aircraft. They would only follow along for a few miles… and then the Cruisers were on their own.

Round-the-World: Pre-Game Flight

The quartet of airplanes made their way up from California to the Seattle area beginning on March 17, with high hopes.

From Sky Master: The Story of Donald Douglas: “For half a year the Air Service had been working on the final plans on their aerial expedition. The flight was to leave from Santa Monica, cover some twenty-two countries and approximately 25,000 miles, [and] return to Santa Monica in August.

“The foreign lands to be visited or flown over were Canada, Alaska, Russia (the Kamchatka Peninsula), Japan, China, Indo-China, Siam, Burma, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Germinay, France, England, Scotland, the Danish Faerce Islands, Iceland, and Greenland.

The globe-circling course as viewed from the North Pole also carried the images of several crew from the Douglas World Cruisers round-the-world flight. [Credit: From “Sky Master: The Story of Donald Douglas,” by Frank Cunningham]

“During the flight, the airmen were to soar over numerous bodies of water, such as the Gulf of Alaska, North Pacific Ocean, Yellow Sea, China Sea, Gulf of Siam, Bay of Bengal, Persian Gulf, The Straits, English Channel, the North Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean, the Denmark Strait, the Davis Strait, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”

But that was if the intrepid adventurers could make it past the western coast of the United States.

Misfortune descended upon Captain Martin’s airplane, the Seattle. As he flew up the San Joaquin Valley towards points to the north, Martin made a forced landing. From Sky Master: “He didn’t know it then, but that was nothing compared to what was to come a short time later.”