Pan American Flyers Earn First Distiguished Flying Cross


Pan American Flyers Earn First Distinguished
Flying Cross

Thousands of spectators crowded the Bolling Field flightline on May 2, 1927, to catch a glimpse of  the latest aviation pioneers, the "Pan American Flyers." The eight young men arrived at Bolling in their Loening OA-1A airplanes to be greeted by President and Mrs. Coolidge and receive the first Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal authorized by Congress just a few months before.

Still wearing their rumpled coveralls, the weary airmen had just completed a spectacular 20500 mile flight from San Antonio to Washington by way of Central and South America and the West Indies, delivering letters of good will from President Coolidge to the leaders of 23 countries. Members of the Pan American flight were Major Herbert A. Dargue, flight leader, Captains Ira Eaker and Arthur B. McDaniel, and Lieutenants Ennis C. Whitehead, Charles Robinson, Muir S. Fairchild, Bernard S. Thompson and Leonard D. Weddington.


The only dark cloud looming over Bolling that day was the absence of Capt. Clinton F. Woolsey and Lt. John W. Benton, who lost their lives over Buenos Aires when their plane collided with Major Dargue's flagship aircraft. The crew of the San Francisco, Captain Eaker and Lieutenant Fairchild (who would later serve as the first Commandant of Air University), won particular glory for piloting the only plane that completed ever scheduled stop on the 133-day journey.  "There can be little question  that the Pan American Goodwill Flight accomplished  its  mission," 

Captain  Eaker  later  commented.  "At  an estimated cost of $100,000, it aroused the aviation interest of Latin American nationals and heads of state. Many of them had never seen an airplane before." The aerial messengers of good will were accompanied to Bolling by a vast array of airplanes from Langley Field, including those carrying Assistant Secretary of War for Air Trubee Davison and Major General Mason M. Patrick, Chief of the Army Air Corps. According to the Air Service Newsletter, celebration activities on the flightline included aviation displays in both hangars and aerial demonstrations, featuring a "flying rodeo simulating broncos entering a ring and endeavoring to throw the riders."

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