"World Cruiser"Enshrined 1974 1986 – 1991
Leigh Wade was born in Cassopolis, Michigan in 1896 and graduated from high school there in 1915. He enlisted in the National Guard in June 1916, and a year later became an aviation cadet in December 1917, after graduating from flying school. He was rated a pilot and commissioned a first lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the Officers’ Reserve Corps, with which he served continuously until March 1926 when he reverted to inactive status.
First Lieutenant Leigh Wade, fresh from the war in Europe, is assigned as a test pilot to McCook Field at Dayton, Ohio. While there, he takes part in the 1920 Pulitzer Trophy Race and pilots the Martin bomber aloft to a record 27,000 foot altitude. Later he helps set a three-man altitude record.
Leigh Wade in among the outstanding airmen selected to participate in the Air Service’s Round-the-World flight in 1923. Aviation pioneer Donald Wills Douglas builds special open-cockpit biplanes for the heroic attempt. After months of preparation, four “World Cruisers” are ready at Santa Monica, California. Flight Commander Frederick L. Martina and Alva L. Harvey are in the “Seattle.” Lowell H. Smith and Leslie P. Arnold are in the “Chicago.” Erik Nelson and John Harding, Jr. are in the “New Orleans” and Leigh Wade and Henry Ogden are in the “Boston.” Taking off amid great fanfare, the planes fly to Seattle, where they are converted to seaplanes for their flights across the Pacific to the Far East.
The four “World Cruisers” officially began their flight from Seattle on April 6, 1924, through Wade and Ogden cannot take off until they jettison valuable supplies. After flying to Prince Rupert, British Columbus, and then on to Alaska, the “Seattle” becomes lost in fog and crashed into a mountain. Though later rescued, Martin and Harvey are out of the flight. After reaching Attu in Aleutians, the three remaining planes take off and fly across the North Pacific, where weather forces them to land in Russia’s forbidden Komandorski Islands.
After reaching Japan on June 4th, the “world Cruisers” cross the China Sea to Shanghai, and then work their way down toe coast to Haiphong, French Into-china. There Wade and Ogden made a wild 12-mile takeoff run down a river full of junks and sampans before becoming airborne. Eventually the flight makes its way to Saigon, Bangkok, and Rangoon and reaches Calcutta, India.
After wheels are installed, the biplanes cross India, skirt the Persian coastline, and fly on the Bagdad, Constantinople, Bucharest, Budapest and Vienna. Arriving in Paris on Bastille Day, the airmen are greeted by a widely cheering crowd. In England pontoons are installed for the flights across the North Atlantic.
The three “world Cruisers” set out from the Orkneys for Iceland on July 30th. Near the Faroes, Wade makes an emergency landing on the ocean. Unable to take off, he and Ogden send up distress signals and hours later a trawler comes to their rescue. Soon the Cruiser “Richmond” arrives and, when it tries to hoist the “Boston” aboard, the tackle snaps and the plane crashed back into the sea. Later the “Boston capsizes while being towed and Wade and Ogden watch it sink beneath the waves after completing 19,000 miles of the intended flight.
After “Chicago” and “New Orleans” reach Greenland, they fly to Pictou Harbor, Nova Scotia. There, determined Leigh Wade and Henry Ogden rejoin the flight in a spare” World Cruiser” names “Boston II.’ Now the planes fly to Boston, New York and Washington, D. C., where President Coolidge greets them.
Heading across the continent, the airmen stop at Dayton, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; and San Diego, California before landing at Santa Monica, where a quarter million people greet them. The flight ends triumphantly at Seattle on September 28th, after a 26,000 mile flight around the world in 175 days.
The epic flight is history. Yet it stands, still today, as a tribute to the pioneering spirit of early Air Service men and for Leigh Wade, a brace and skillful airman capable of meeting each challenge that demanded the best of him—the true measure of an outstanding aviation pioneer.
Four years after the flight, Wade left the service and joined Consolidated Aircraft as an overseas sales executive. At the request of General “Hap” Arnold in 1940, he returned to active duty and served in various staff, command, and attaché positions. He retired as a major general in 1955.
Leigh Wade died August 31, 1991 at the age of 93 in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.