Seattle’s Last Roar

The replica of the Seattle—one of the Douglas World Cruisers that did not complete the round-the-world flight—embodies the passion project of one man who by force of will recreated a dream that we honor this summer on the centennial of that milestone mission.

The Seattle II, built by Robert “Bob” Dempster and his wife and fellow pilot Diane—and a list of various contributors since 2001—sounded its Liberty V-12 engine for the final time on June 8, at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport in Washington.

I received a card invitation in the mail and wanted to fly across the country to hear that roar, knowing how precious it is becoming to witness the powerplants of yore in action. They may all be transformed to burn Jet-A or SAF or whirr on electricity in a shorter timeframe than we realize.

But alas, circumstances conspired, and so a friend of mine also with a passion for aviation history, Meg Godlewski, attended. I asked her to bear witness in my stead—and to snap a few pics off her iPhone. I give you this gallery and a tip of the hat to Bob, who I first met in October 2020 when the Seattle II was still barely kept under cover at the Renton Municipal Airport. It was still on floats, so it stretched amazingly tall in its open hangar home.

The Dempsters intended to fly the Seattle II around the world this year. After a spate of flying (including Alaska and Texas, and a commemoration flight for Boeing’s centennial in 2016), they settled for one mighty roar in 2024—and a permanent home at the Museum of Flight.

Sometimes life works out that way.

The Fate of the First “Seattle”

When the flight of four Douglas World Cruisers set out on April 6, 1924, to head north towards Alaska, they knew not what fate lay ahead. They did know, however, that the flight plan unfolded over stunning yet challenging terrain—the long, jagged finger of British Columbia and what would become the 49th state, Alaska (still to come in 1959).

Following the trip from Lake Washington to Prince Rupert, BC, the four DWCs made progress in fits and starts, waiting on weather and keeping their crafts from foundering while moored in various storms. But they pressed on. Adding to his previous aeronautical woes, Major Martin suffered an engine failure in the Seattle that forced him down in Portage Bay, on the way. He and Sgt. Harvey were rescued by a Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Hull, on April 17.

Martin had a new engine—delivered by the U.S.S. Algonquin—installed in his mount and the pair launched for Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, on April 19, where the rest of the crews had pressed on towards at his behest, after holing up for a few days at Chignik. The trio, the Chicago, the New Orleans, and the Boston, made it by April 20, and then spent two weeks waiting for their commander to arrive.

While there, they spent their days keeping their airplanes secure, making minor repairs, and resting up for the journey ahead.

On April 25, news arrived that Martin had made it to Chignik, hugging the shoreline to stay on course through the poor visibility. This lengthened their route considerably, but they made it over the course of one long day.

On April 27—after celebrating Easter on the 26th—the crews replaced the engine on the Boston, which entertained “a distinct knock” according to the diaries of Erik Nelson. All of the engines had suffered burns and cracks to their exhaust manifolds.

At 10 a.m. on April 30, Martin and Harvey departed Chignik for the final push to Dutch Harbor. Unfortunately, striving to make up lost time, they took local advice on “an excellent short cut,” according to Sky Master. “This short cut turned out to be like most short cuts. While Martin was trying to follow the directions he found himself surrounded by fog, tried to climb over it. He didn’t. The Seattle hit a one thousand foot precipice on a mountainside, was badly cracked up. Fortunately, Major Martin and Sergeant Harvey were unhurt.”

When Douglas heard of the missing airplane, he employed “some Navy choice cuss words,” Sky Master continued.

Martin and Harvey used the wrecked airplane as a shelter for two days and nights before starting out to effect their own rescue. They almost fell over another precipice and returned to the Seattle. After striking out again, they lost three days before coming upon a cabin—where they stayed, trapped by a blizzard, for several more days, through May 8. One last push, then, found them in Port Moller, where “surprised cannery people welcomed them,” said Sky Master.

The three remaining DWCs would press on, departing on May 3, while they still awaited the news of their commander and his maintenance officer.

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.