Today, the ability to crisscross continents and oceans without stopping is taken for granted by many. But I think it’s good to remember that what is commonplace today was pretty miraculous not that long ago — and all of us who enjoy the mobility that modern aviation provides owe a debt of gratitude to the long list of pioneers who paved the way.
Most people know the story of Charles Lindbergh (incidentally, a pilot for one of the companies that eventually formed American Airlines) and his solo trip across the Atlantic in 1927. In his famous Spirit of Saint Louis, he flew nonstop from Long Island, New York, to Paris — a distance of 3,600 miles — in 33 hours and 30 minutes. Eight years later, in 1935, two lesser-known aviation pioneers named Fred and Algene Key established a world record for sustained flight in their single-engine Curtiss Robin aircraft, named Ole Miss. The Key brothers took off from Meridian, Mississippi, on June 4, and did not touch ground again until July 1. All told, they were in the air 653 hours and 34 minutes (more than 27 days). They hooked up with other planes 432 times to receive fuel and supplies. They also built a catwalk alongside the plane’s engine, which enabled one brother to climb out, change the oil and the spark plugs, and perform emergency repairs.
Fourteen years later, a much bigger airplane took on a much bigger mission: the first nonstop flight around the world. On February 26, 1949, Captain James Gallagher, piloting Lucky Lady II — a four-engine B-50 Superfortress bomber — took off from Carswell Air Force Base, in Fort Worth, Texas. Ninety-four hours and 23,452 miles later, Gallagher and his crew of 13 touched down, having circumnavigated the globe. The propeller-driven plane averaged 249 miles per hour during the trip, a good reminder for us of how different aviation was in the pre-jet era. It was refueled in the air four times — over the Azores, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Hawaii — by KB-29 tanker planes.
Viewed in this context, the 16-hour flight from Delhi to Chicago doesn’t seem that long at all. And there is no midflight, in-air refueling required. Clearly, the world of aviation has changed since those early pioneers ventured out. The recent success of the space shuttle, however, reminds me that the spirit that drives aviation hasn’t changed a bit. Air travel — for centuries a dream, now an everyday occurrence for millions — has always been about exploration and testing the limits of what is possible. It’s a noble tradition, and we are proud to be a part of it. We are equally proud, of course, that you have chosen to make us part of your explorations today. Thank you for flying American Airlines, and have a great trip!
GERARD J. ARPEY
Chairman & CEO