Under the auspices of the U.S. Army Air Service, the Fokker T-2 made the first nonstop U.S. transcontinental flight in 1923. Two failed attempts at a west-to-east crossing were followed by a successful east-to-west flight when Air Service Lieutenants Oakley Kelly and John Macready took off from Long Island, New York, on May 2 and landed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, on May 3, slightly more than 26 hours and 50 minutes later.
The airplane was the fourth in a series of transport designs by famed Dutch manufacturer Anthony Fokker and his chief designer, Rheinhold Platz. Manufactured as a Fokker F-IV, the aircraft was purchased by the U.S. Army Air Service in June 1922 and re-designated the Air Service Transport 2, or T-2. Required modifications for the transcontinental flight, such as increasing the fuel capacity, making structural reinforcements, and adding a second set of controls, were carried out at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.
Transfer from the U.S. War Department
Weight: Gross, 4,932 kg (10,850 lb) at takeoff for coast-to-coast flight
The Fokker T-2 was the first airplane to make a nonstop flight spanning the North American continent. The flight was made under the auspices of the U.S. Army Air Service. Lieutenants Oakley G. Kelly and John A. Macready took off from Long Island, New York, on May 2, 1923, and landed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, on May 3, slightly more than 26 hours and 50 minutes later.
The success of the transcontinental flight can be attributed not only to the preparation and skill of the Air Service, but also to the design of the aircraft. The product of famed Dutch manufacturer Anthony Fokker and his chief designer, Rheinhold Platz, the transcontinental airplane was built at Veere, the Nether-lands, in 1922. Called the Air Service Transport 2, or T-2, it was the fourth in a series of commercial transport designs by the Fokker Company. Two of these airplanes, originally carrying the designation F-IV, were sold to the U.S. Army Air Service in June 1922.
The largest Fokker aircraft up to that time, the T-2 featured a fully cantilevered wooden monoplane wing spanning nearly 25 m (82 ft) and a fuselage just short of 15 m (49 ft) long. It was powered by an American-built 420-horsepower Liberty V-12 engine. In its standard configuration, the Fokker had a single pilot's position located in a forward open cockpit to the left side of the engine. The enclosed cabin carried 8 to 10 passengers and their baggage.
Early acceptance trials by the Air Service indicated that the T-2 was capable of carrying heavy loads and could be adapted to make the long-distance flight from coast to coast. Modifications would be required, however. The center section of the wing would have to be reinforced to handle the added weight resulting from the greatly increased fuel supply. The standard 492-liter (130-gallon) fuel tank, located in the leading edge of the wing, was supplemented by a 1,552-liter (410-gallon) tank in the wing center section and a 700-liter (185-gallon) tank mounted in the fuselage cabin area. Also installed in the cabin was a second set of controls to facili-tate control of the airplane when the two-man crew exchanged positions.
The first two attempts of the coast-to-coast flight started from San Diego to take advantage of prevailing westerly winds and to use the refined fuel available in California, which had a higher natural octane rating than other fuels. On the first try, fog in the mountain passes 80 km (50 mi) east of San Diego forced Kelly and Macready to turn back. They remained aloft long enough, however, to test the performance of the airplane under extended flight conditions. The second attempt ended at Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis, when a cracked water jacket caused the engine to seize. In the course of the preparations and the two unsuccessful attempts at a west-east crossing, several new engines were installed, and many minor modifications were made to the T-2. All of this work was carried out at the Army Air Service installation at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.
The third and successful attempt was made from east to west. Kelly and Macready took off from the combined Roose-velt-Hazelhurst Field on Long Island, New York, at 12:30 p.m., eastern standard time. At takeoff, the airplane had a gross weight of 4,932 kg (10,850 lb)-only 68 kg (150 lb) less than the T-2's specified limit of 4,990 kg (11,000 lb). Lieutenant Kelly was at the controls first, and flew as far as Richmond, Indiana. Kelly then switched places with Lieutenant Macready, who flew the air-craft until midnight, at which time they were approaching the Arkansas River, the 1, 900 km (1,188 mi) point. They exchanged positions there, again at Santa Rosa, New Mexico, at 6:00 a.m. the following morning, and once more as they crossed the Great Divide at an altitude of 3,110 km (10,200 ft). Macready landed the T-2 in San Diego on May 3 at 12:26 p.m., local time, completing the nonstop transcontinental journey in an official time of 26 hours, 50 minutes, and 38 3/5 seconds. The T-2 had flown 3,950 km (2,470 mi) at an average ground speed of 147 kph (92 mph).
In November 1923, the Air Service offered the T-2 to the Smithsonian Institution, and transferred the airplane in January 1924. The T-2 was fully restored in 1962-1964, and minor refurbishment was done in 1973 in preparation for display of the airplane in the new National Air and Space Museum building in 1976.