Around the World in 94 Hours

On this day in 1949, the crew of a B-50 Superfortress named _Lucky Lady II _was in the midst of the first nonstop round-the-world flight. Here's how that feat is inspiring me to make an epic journey of my own.

I’m going to Chino, California. I’m not sure when, but I’m going. Here’s why.

Exactly 65 years ago to the minute, a Boeing B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II was rumbling high over the Mediterranean on an epic four-day journey, its four massive Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial engines supplying a combined 12,000 horsepower as the bomber’s crew attempted to set a record that ranks right up there with the feats of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. Commanded by U.S. Air Force Capt. James Gallagher, Lucky Lady II became the first airplane to circumnavigate the globe nonstop – thanks to the then-new concept of aerial refueling and those reliable Wasp Major radials.

Readers suggested we include the R-4360 Wasp Major on our recent list of 50 Amazing Engines. There’s no question that this engine, a 28-cylinder wonder that powered dozens of airplane types in the 1940s and 1950s including the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose, belongs on such a list. And believe me, I would have been all for it – after all, Capt. James Gallagher was my grandfather’s cousin. But in creating the list we had to draw the line somewhere. In the end we decided to include one Wasp radial, the original R-1340, in homage to them all.

There are actually three aviation record-holders in my family. The other two I’ve written about before. My father’s name is etched in the U.S. Army’s record books as the first pilot to takeoff and land while towing a glider with a helicopter (in retrosecpt not a great idea, he says) and another member of my family was **a gunner on the B-29 Bockscar ** when it famously dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki – making it the first airplane to end a war.

Lucky Lady II‘s historic feat is easily the most impressive of the three. The crew departed Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, at 12:21 p.m. local time on February 26, 1949, and landed back on the same runway at 10:31 a.m. on March 2 after being in the air for 94 hours and 1 minute – 2 minutes ahead of the estimated time of arrival calculated by Capt. Gallagher before the flight. During the 23,452-mile round-the-world journey, Lucky Lady II was refueled three times by strategically positioned B-29s before touching down and being greeted by a throng of reporters flanking Lt. General Curtis LeMay, the Strategic Air Command’s commanding general. It was a public relations coup for the Air Force and Pratt & Whitney.

I didn’t realize it until I started researching the flight ahead of the 65th anniversary, but it turns out that Lucky Lady II is in the collection of the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino. That got me thinking about a fun and history-filled cross-country flying trip I can take with my son when he’s a little older. We’ll start out in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (of course) and then head north and west, first to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; then on to the American Helicopter Museum in Exton, Pennsylvania; next to the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, the home of Bockscar; then to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for EAA AirVenture and to spend some time on the family farm in nearby Waupaca; and finally to Planes of Fame in California to check out Lucky Lady II.

Too ambitious? I don’t think so. It sounds just about perfect to me.

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