May 3, 1923
The first non-stop transcontinental flight across the United States was completed when U.S. Army Air Service Lieutenants Oakley G. Kelly and John A. Macready landed their single-engine, high-wing Army Fokker T-2 plane at Rockwell Field near San Diego, California. This landing took place 26 hours, 50 minutes, and 48 seconds after they had left Mitchel Field on Long Island.
Kelly and Macready made the 2,625-mile (4,224.5-kilometer) trip across the United States without weather reports, flying instruments, any radio, or parachutes. In addition, their 49-foot (14.9-meter)-long aircraft was carrying 780 gallons (2,952.6 liters) of fuel, 32 gallons (121.1 liters) of oil, and 25 gallons (94.6 liters) of water. The weight was so heavy, as a matter of fact, that Kelly and Macready initially had to travel 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.” This 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 above the historic route to foster support for marking and preserving it.
For more information on the first non-stop transcontinental flight across the United States, please check out https://www.historynet.com/aviation-history-first-nonstop-continental-flight.htm.
(Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution, Macready and Kelly with their Fokker T-2; https://airandspace.si.edu/multimedia-gallery/si-98-15780hjpg)