Chronology: 1920-1929

1920

Feb. 25, 1920. Establishment of an Air Service School is authorized at Langley Field, Va.

Feb. 27, 1920. Army Maj. R.W. “Shorty” Schroeder sets a world altitude record of 33,114 feet in the Packard-LePere LUSAC-11 biplane over McCook Field, Ohio.

June 4, 1920. The Army Reorganization Bill is approved, changing the title from Director to Chief of Air service, and endowing the Army Air Service with 1,514 officers and 16,000 enlisted men.

June 5, 1920. A provision in the Fiscal Year 1921 appropriations bill restricts the Army Air Service to operating from land bases.

1921

Feb. 22, 1921. American transcontinental airmail service begins. The route between San Francisco and Mineola, N.Y., is flown in 14 segments by pilots flying US-built de Havilland DH-4s. The first flight, made mostly in bad weather, takes 33 hours, 20 minutes.

June 8, 1921. The first flight of an Army Air Service pressurized cabin airplane occurs.

July 13–21, 1921. In a series of tests off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, Army crews from the First Provisional Air Brigade at Langley Field, Va., flying Martin MB-2 bombers, sink three ships, including the captured German battleship Ostfriesland, demonstrating the vulnerability of naval craft to aerial attack.

Aug. 3, 1921. Lt. John A. Macready, flying a Curtiss JN-6 “Jenny” fitted with a 32-gallon hopper tank filled with insecticide dust, performs the world’s first successful aerial crop dusting. The spray system is devised to save a grove of catalpa trees near Troy, Ohio, being devoured by Catalpa Sphinx caterpillars. Flying at 20 to 35 feet back and forth over the trees, Macready spreads the dust completely and all the caterpillars are killed within 46 hours.

Sept. 26, 1921. Sadi Lecointe pushes the recognized absolute speed record past 200 mph, as he hits 205.223 mph in the Nieuport-Delage Sesquiplane at Ville-sauvage, France.

Nov. 12, 1921. Wesley May, with a five-gallon can of gasoline strapped to his back, climbs from the wing of one aircraft to the wing of another in the first “air-to-air” refueling.

1922

March 20, 1922. USS Langley (CV-1), the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, is commissioned in Norfolk, Va. The ship is converted from the collier USS Jupiter.

June–July 1922. Army Air Service Balloon and Airship School established at Scott Field, consolidating balloon and airship training activities previously conducted at Brooks Field, Tex., Langley Field, Va., and Ross Field, Calif.

July 1, 1922. Congress authorizes the conversion of the unfinished battle cruisers Lexington and Saratoga to aircraft carriers.

Sept. 4, 1922. AAS Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, flying a deHavilland DH-4B, takes off from Pablo Beach, Fla., and lands at Rockwell Field, San Diego, 21 hours and 20 minutes later, marking the first flight across the US in a single day. Doolittle only makes one refueling stop (at Kelly Field, Tex.) during the 2,163-mile trip.

Oct. 17, 1922. The first aircraft carrier takeoff in US Navy history is made by Navy Lt. V.C. Griffin in a Vought VE-7SF from USS Langley (CV-1), at anchor in the York River in Virginia.

Oct. 18, 1922. Army Brig. Gen. William H. “Billy” Mitchell becomes the first US military pilot to hold the recognized absolute speed record, as he sets a mark of 222.97 mph in the Curtiss R-6 at Selfridge Field, Mich. This is also the first time the world speed record has been certified outside of France.

Oct. 20, 1922. Army Lt. Harold R. Harris becomes the first American pilot to save himself by use of a parachute, bailing out of a Loening PW-2A that had shed its wings in flight over McCook Field, Ohio.

Dec. 18, 1922. Col. Thurman H. Bane makes the first flight of the Army Air Service’s first rotorcraft at McCook Field, Ohio. Bane reaches an altitude of six feet, covers nearly 300 feet, and hovers for one minute and 42 seconds. The 65-foot diameter X-shaped vehicle, developed by George de Bothezat, a Russian immigrant working for the Army, utilizes four six-bladed rotors for lift. Several subsequent tests were all successful, but the Army loses interest in the project.

1923

May 2–3, 1923. Army Lt. Oakley G. Kelly and Lt. John A. Macready complete the first nonstop transcontinental flight. The trip from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, N. Y., to Rockwell Field, San Diego, in the Fokker T-2 takes 26 hours, 50 minutes, and 38 seconds and covers 2,520 miles.

Sept. 4, 1923. First flight of the airship USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) is made at NAF Lakehurst, N.J. The airship will make 57 flights in two years before it is destroyed by a storm near Marietta, Ohio.

Sept. 18, 1923. The first mid-air hookup of an airplane to an airship takes place over Langley Field, Va., as a pilot flying a Sperry M-1 Messenger, with its top-wing mounted trapeze, hooks on to a rig suspended below the Goodyear D-3 airship and shuts the engine down. The Messenger, the smallest aircraft ever built for the Army, is intended as a “dispatch rider of the sky,” relaying messages between field commanders. This test is one of several experimental tasks the aircraft would be used to accomplish.

Sept. 28, 1923. At Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast, Navy Lt. David Rittenhouse claims the Schneider Cup for the United States for the first time. Flying a Curtiss CR-3, Rittenhouse wins the prestigious seaplane race with an average speed of 177.37 mph.

1924

Feb. 5, 1924. Army 2nd Lt. Joseph C. Morrow Jr., qualifies as the 24th and last Military Aviator under the rules set up for that rating.

March 4, 1924. The Army Air Service takes on a new mission: aerial icebreaking. Two Martin bombers and two DH-4s bomb the frozen Platte River at North Bend, Neb., for six hours before the ice clears.

April 6–Sept. 28, 1924. The Army Air Service completes the first circumnavigation of the globe. Four crews in Douglas World Cruisers begin the voyage in Seattle, but only two aircraft and crews (Chicago, with pilot Lt. Lowell Smith and Lt. Leslie Arnold aboard; and New Orleans, with pilot Lt. Erik Nelson and Lt. Jack Harding) complete the 175-day, 27,553-mile, 371-hour, 11-minute trip.

Around the World

June 23, 1924. Army Lt. Russell L. Maughan makes the first dawn to dusk flight across the US. Taking off at first light in a Curtiss PW 8 from Mitchel Field, N.Y., Maughan races the sun across the continent and, after five refueling stops, lands in San Francisco 21 hours, 48.5 minutes later. Although he does not actually land before the sunsets, he is credited with the dawn to dusk flight because of the loss of one hour and 20 minutes at McCook Field, Ohio, as his airplane had to be repaired because an over eager mechanic accidentally twisted off a fuel line vent with a wrench that was too large.

Oct. 12–15, 1924. As part of World War I reparations, the German zeppelin LZ-126 is flown from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to NAF Lakehurst, N.J. The Navy will later christen the airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3).

Oct. 28, 1924. Army Air Service airplanes break up cloud formations at 13,000 feet over Bolling Field, D.C., by “blasting” them with electrified sand.

Dec. 13, 1924. Army Lt. Cliff Finter attached and detached a Sperry Messenger airplane to the TC-3 airship from an altitude of 3,000 feet over Scott Field, Ill.

1925

Jan. 24, 1925. The Navy airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), with 25 scientists and astronomers on board, is used to make observations of a solar eclipse.

Feb. 2, 1925. President Calvin Coolidge signs the Kelly Act, authorizing the air transport of mail under contract. This is the first major legislative step toward the creation of a US airline industry.

July 15, 1925. The A. Hamilton Rice Expedition, the first group of explorers to use an airplane, returns to the US. The expedition, which used a Curtiss Seagull floatplane, discovered the headwaters of the Amazon River.

Sept. 11, 1925. Army Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle loses a coin toss to Navy Lt. Al Williams to be first to fly the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Garden City, N.Y. The aircraft, which could be fitted either with landing gear or floats, would go on to win both the Pulitzer Trophy and Schneider Cup races the next month.

Oct. 26, 1925. Army Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, flying the Curtiss R3C-2 floatplane racer, wins the Schneider Cup race in Baltimore with an average speed of 232.57 mph. This marks back-to-back wins for the United States and the only time the Army had competed in a seaplane race. (Note: The US won the Schneider Cup race in 1923, and the race was not held in 1924.) The next day, Doolittle sets a world seaplane speed record of 245.713 mph over a three-kilometer course.

Dec. 17, 1925. Airpower pioneer Billy Mitchell is found guilty of violating the 96th Article of War (“conduct of a nature to bring discredit on the military service”) and is sentenced to a five-year suspension of rank, pay, and command. Already demoted from brigadier general, Colonel Mitchell decides instead to resign from the Army.

“Billy Mitchell: Warrior, Prophet, Martyr,” Air Force Magazine, September 1985 (not yet online)

The Spirit of Billy Mitchell

The Real Billy Mitchell

1926

Jan. 8, 1926. The 719,000 cubic-foot semi-rigid RS-1 airship, the largest semi-rigid in the world, makes its maiden flight from Scott Field, Ill.

Jan. 16, 1926. The Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics is founded.

March 16, 1926. Robert H. Goddard launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Mass.

May 20, 1926. President Calvin Coolidge signs the Air Commerce Act, the cornerstone of the federal government’ s regulation of civil aviation. The act charges the Secretary of Commerce with fostering air commerce, licensing pilots, issuing and enforcing air traffic rules, certificating aircraft, establishing airways, and operating and maintaining aids to navigation.

July 2, 1926. US Army Air Service becomes US Army Air Corps as the Air Corps Act of 1926 goes into effect. The act sets a goal of 1,800 serviceable aircraft and 16,650 personnel by Jan. 30, 1932, but the Depression will prevent this goal from being reached.

July 2, 1926. Congress establishes the Distinguished Flying Cross (made retroactive to April 6, 1917).

Dec. 21, 1926–May 2, 1927. In an effort to garner publicity for the newly established Army Air Corps (and to show that the Army was more adept at long distance flight over land or water than the Navy), five Air Corps crews, led by Capt. Ira C. Eaker and Lt. Muir S. Fairchild, make a 22,000-mile goodwill tour of 25 Central and South American countries in Loening OA-1A amphibians. The flight starts at Kelly Field, Tex., and ends at Bolling Field, D.C.

Eaker’s Pan-American Mission

1927

May 20–21, 1927. The first solo nonstop transatlantic flight is completed by Charles A. Lindbergh in the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis: New York to Paris in 33 hours, 32 minutes. Lindbergh’s achievements will be recognized by the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, and by special act of Congress, the Medal of Honor.

May 25,1927. AAC Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle flies the first successful outside loop.

June 28–29, 1927. AAC Lt. Albert Hegenberger (navigator) and Lt. Lester Maitland (pilot) make the first flight from the US mainland to Hawaii. Flying a modified Fokker C-2 nicknamed Bird of Paradise, the duo leaves Oakland, Calif., travel 2,407 miles and arrive at Wheeler Field 25 hours and 50 minutes later. The flight is primarily a demonstration of the Army’s advances in navigation (and also to show up the Navy). Hegenberger and Maitland would later be awarded the Mackay Trophy for 1927.

Sept. 16, 1927. In a staged publicity event, MGM Studios attempts to make the first nonstop flight across the US with an animal on board an aircraft. Noted pilot Martin Jensen was chosen to fly Leo, MGM’s trademark lion, from San Diego, Calif., to New York City for a promotional tour. Man and beast never arrive, however. After a nationwide search and three days of front-page headlines, Jensen and Leo are found unhurt in the Arizona desert. A storm had forced Jensen down, and the Ryan BI monoplane (that had been fitted with a steel cage for Leo) was heavily damaged on landing.

Oct. 12, 1927. Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, is formally dedicated as the Army Air Corp’s new test center. The citizens of Dayton raise $400,673 to purchase 4,000 acres of land east of the city for the new facility. McCook Field, which had been the center of military aviation research and development for the past 10 years, but which was too small and had no room for expansion, is closed.

Nov. 4, 1927. Using a free balloon, Capt. Hawthorne C. Gray achieves a world record altitude of 42,470 feet, but his death nullifies the record.

Nov. 16, 1927. The US Navy’s second designated aircraft carrier—USS Saratoga (CV-3)—is commissioned. The ship will later be deliberately destroyed during a 1946 atomic bomb test.

1928

Jan. 27, 1928. The Navy airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) lands on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) near Newport, R.I., and resumes its patrol after replenishment.

Feb. 15, 1928. President Calvin Coolidge signs a bill authorizing acceptance of a new site near San Antonio to become the Army Air Corps training center. This center is now Randolph Air Force Base.

March 1–9, 1928. AAC Lt. Burnie R. Dallas and Beckwith Havens make the first transcontinental flight in an amphibious airplane. Total flight time in the Loening Amphibian is 32 hours, 45 minutes.

March 30, 1928. Italian Maj. Mario de Bernardi pushes the recognized absolute speed record past 300 mph, as he hits 318.624 mph in the Macchi M.52R at Venice, Italy.

April 15–21, 1928. Britain George Hubert Wilkins and American Carl B. Eielson, a former AAC lieutenant for whom Eielson AFB, Alaska, is named, fly from Point Barrow, Alaska, across the Arctic Ocean to Spitsbergen, Norway, in a Lockheed Vega. This first west-to-east trip over the top of the world takes only 21 hours of flying, but the duo is delayed by weather. Wilkins was knighted for the exploit.

May 12, 1928. Lt. Julian S. Dexter of the Army Air Corps Reserve completes a 3,000-square-mile aerial mapping assignment over the Florida Everglades. The project takes 65 hours of flying, spread over two months.

May 30–31, 1928. Capt. William E. Kepner and Lt. William O. Eareckson won the National Balloon Elimination Race and the accompanying Paul W. Litchfield Trophy.

June 9, 1928. For the third consecutive year, Lt. Earle E. Partridge wins the distinguished gunnery badge at the Army Air Corps Machine Gunning Matches at Langley Field, Va.

June 15, 1928. Lt. Karl S. Axtater and Lt. Edward H. White, flying in an Army Air Corps blimp directly over an Illinois Central train, dip down and hand a mailbag to the postal clerk on the train, thus completing the first aircraft-to-train transfer.

June 30, 1928. Capt. William E. Kepner and Lt. William O. Eareckson took first place at the James Gordon Bennett International balloon Race, bringing the Army Air Corps international recognition for its lighter-than-air activities.

Aug. 1, 1928. Airmail rates rise to five cents for the first ounce and 10 cents for each additional ounce.

Sept. 22, 1928. The number of people whose lives have been saved by parachutes exceeds 100 when Lt. Roger V. Williams bails out over San Diego.

Oct. 11–15, 1928. The German Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127) makes the first transoceanic voyage by an airship carrying paying passengers. Graf Zeppelin travels from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to NAF Lakehurst, N.J., in nearly 112 hours, with 20 passengers and a crew of 37.

Nov. 11, 1928. In a Lockheed Vega, Sir George Hubert Wilkins, who was knighted for his previous feat on April 15–21, 1928, and Carl B. Eielson make the first flight over Antarctica.

1929

Jan. 1–7, 1929. Question Mark, a Fokker C-2 commanded by AAC Maj. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz, sets an endurance record for a refueled aircraft of 150 hours, 40 minutes, 14 seconds. The crew includes AAC Capt. Ira C. Eaker, Lt. Elwood R. Quesada, Lt. Harry Halverson, and Sgt. Roy Hooe.

Question Mark

Jan. 23–27, 1929. The aircraft carriers USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3) participate in fleet exercises attached to opposing forces.

Feb. 10–11, 1929. Evelyn Trout sets a women’s solo flight endurance record of 17 hours, 21 minutes, 37 seconds in the monoplane Golden Eagle.

April 24, 1929. Elinor Smith, 17 years old, sets a women’s solo endurance record of 26 hours, 21 minutes, 32 seconds in a Bellanca CH monoplane at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, N.Y.

May 16, 1929. At the first Academy Award ceremonies in Los Angeles, Calif., the Paramount movie “Wings” wins the Oscar for Best Picture for 1927–28. The World War I flying epic stars Richard Arlen, Buddy Rogers, and Clara Bow. A young Gary Cooper has a minor role.

Sept. 24, 1929. AAC Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle makes the first blind, all-instrument flight at Mitchel Field, N.Y., in a completely covered cockpit (accompanied by check pilot). He takes off, flies a short distance, and lands.

“Flying Blind,” Air Force Magazine, September 1989 (not yet online)

Sept. 30, 1929. At Frankfurt, Germany, Fritz von Opel travels just over a mile in the world’s first flight of a rocket-powered airplane. The Rak-1 tops 85 mph but crashes.

Nov. 23, 1929. After visiting Robert H. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh arranges a grant of $50,000 from the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics to support Goddard’s work with rockets.

Nov. 29, 1929. Navy Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, Bernt Balchen, Army Capt. Ashley McKinley, and Harold June make the first flight over the South Pole. Balchen is the pilot of the Ford Trimotor, Floyd Bennett.

Dec. 31, 1929. The Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics ends its activities.