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World Cruiser Reproduction Project

Douglas World Cruiser Chicago
Douglas World Cruiser Chicago

Never underestimate the determination of a married couple who have chosen a different path in life. I first learned of the remarkable Bob and Diane Dempster of Seattle, Washington, when they chose to fly their Piper PA-18 Super Cub around the world in stages in 1990.One of their stops early on was at EAA Oshkosh, where the Cub, with its additional belly tank and storage capacity, made me stop and ask what they were up to. Bob had a glint in his eye when he told me they were on a long cross-country. His wry grin told me they weren’t just heading to Poughkeepsie. They were following a personal dream, a husband and wife who took the term “team” to heart.

They would fly across a major body of water or a continent, enjoying the journey as they motored along, and then when needed, they’d hop on an airliner and fly home to make more money. The new income would allow them to continue the globe-girdling trip with the PA-18, learning to work together to accomplish their goals.

They had a lifetime’s worth of adventure during their journey, but a visit to see the real Douglas World Cruiser Chicago at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum cemented their vision of what a really ambitious around-the-world flight was like.

For over the past decade, they’ve been hard at work overseeing and participating in the construction of a reproduction of a Douglas World Cruiser, the Seattle II.

The original flight was the brainchild of the U.S. Army Air Service, with planning for the journey starting in 1923. Major General Mason M. Patrick, chief of the U.S. Army Air Service, announced the intent of the Army to make the flight. He ended his remarks with the statement that “The flight would secure for the United States, the birthplace of aeronautics, the honor of being the first country to encircle the world entirely by air.”

The Army asked a young Donald W. Douglas for a quote to specially outfit his Douglas Cloudster, but he realized that a version of the successful Douglas DT-2 would be a better choice. It could carry a two-person crew and the extra fuel for a series of flights that would culminate in an around-the-world flight, and it was already set up to operate off of wheels or floats, depending on the mission at hand. The Army agreed and ordered a prototype, which Douglas delivered in November of 1923. Performing to the Army’s satisfaction, they placed an order for four more of the new Douglas World Cruisers (DWCs), which were delivered on March 11, 1924. Included in the order were 14 sets of floats, and they also had 14 Liberty V8 engines shipped to various points around the world should they be needed as replacements.

The original four DWCs were built to circle the globe piloted by Army Air Service pilots. The east-to-west flight began in Sand Point, Washington, on April 6, 1924. Spare engines and wheeled landing gear were shipped around the globe, and the U.S. Navy gave logistic support at its bases. Foreign countries also contributed to the success of the flight, which was challenged by both weather and mechanical delays. Only two of the original four that departed made it around the world, the Chicago and New Orleans, with a total of five DWCs participating in the project. The original Boston was lost at sea in the North Atlantic, the crew rescued by the Navy. Months before, at the start of the trip, the Seattle had crashed into a mountain in Alaska during a snowstorm, its crew taking two weeks to trek out of the wilderness. The prototype DWC, now dubbed the Boston II, was flown to Labrador by the Boston’s crew to join the remaining two World Cruisers in the last legs of the flight over North America. The around-the-world flight, which required an enormous amount of logistic support, ended in Sand Point on September 28, 1924, after flying a total of 27,553 miles in 371 flight hours.

Next spring, Bob plans on embarking on another trip around the world with the Seattle II, and the work is well on its way to becoming a real honest-to-goodness airplane. Running on a shoestring budget but with enthusiastic volunteers and some dedicated contract fabricators (and now support from Boeing, which has allowed the project to be completed in the corner of one of its hangars), the Seattle World Cruiser Association is well on its way to achieving its goal of creating a DWC capable of making the flight. We wish them well and look forward to seeing this large single-engine airplane (with a wingspan of 50 feet) in the air in 2011. For more on the Seattle World Cruiser project, click here.

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