In April 1924, 3 years before Lindbergh soloed across the Atlantic, Leigh Wade and seven other young courageous Army airmen took off on a 26,000-mile journey around the world. These men were the first to circumnavigate the earth by air, the first to fly across the Pacific, the first to fly across the Yellow Sea, and the first to fly across the Atlantic from east to west. They also established the fastest airtime between Tokyo and Paris. Born in Michigan in 1896, Wade enlisted in the National Guard in 1916 and served along the Mexican border during operations against Pancho Villa. Although not attracted to airplanes, he chose the Army's aviation program as the best means of earning a commission. After flight training in Canada, he served a brief tour in Fort Worth, Texas, before sailing to France in World War I.
There, he flew all types of airplanes in all sorts of weather as an instructor and test pilot. After returning to the United States, he gained experience in testing aerial navigation instruments and also set an altitude record of 25,341 feet in a twin-engine Martin MB-2 bomber. In 1923, Congress and the President approved a request by the Air Service for a round-the-world flight to test the capabilities of airmen, planes, and logistical support. Although the purpose of the mission was peaceful, the implications for military aviation were obvious. Wade, his mechanic, and three other determined crews took off from Seattle in their Douglas World Cruisers on 6 April 1924, and, for 175 days, endured fog, arctic blizzards, tropical typhoons, arid sand storms, and mechanical problems as they nursed their aircraft around the world.
Five months later, the exhausted flyers succeeded in circumnavigating the earth and demonstrated that aviation had come of age. 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.
General Wade piloted the "Boston," one of four Douglas World-cruiser airplanes that were flown in the first around-the-world flight. The planes departed from Santa Monica, California, on 17 March 1924 and completed the flight on 23 September. During the 175-day trip, they covered 27,534 miles and logged 371 hours flying time. By the end of the journey, they had faced numerous weather challenges, including typhoons, ice, and dense fog. General Wade almost failed to complete the journey when a faulty oil pump forced his aircraft into the sea enroute to Iceland, but he completed the flight in the Boston II, a spare aircraft assigned to the mission. The world-circling mission showed the world that American aviation had come of age.