The Ten Most Amazing Airplane Expeditions Ever Undertaken

Flying was once just about the most bleeding edge, almost recklessly dangerous form of travel. I mean, you didn't even get free peanuts.

This is a list of expedition trips. It is not a list of most amazing flights of all time. For that reason, there's a lot that I just didn't have room for on this short top ten. The Berlin Airlift, for one, the '26 Transpolar airship flight, and military trips like flying the hump in WWII will have to remain very honorable mentions. And now, your top ten:


10.) First Flight Across The US


In 1911, just eight years after the Wright Brothers, Calbraith Perry Rodgers became the first person to fly a plane across the US. He crashed 16 times during the trip.

Suggested By: f86sabre, Photo Credit: Library of Congress

9.) First Unrefuelled Nonstop Flight Around The World


In 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager became the first people to fly around the world without stopping at all. Their wings were damaged on takeoff, but they made it. It took them half as many days as it took for Perry Rodgers to get across the US.

Suggested By: My X-type is too a real Jaa-aa-aaaaag, Photo Credit: NASA

8.) First Aerial Circumnavigation Of The World


Five engine swaps, two wing changes, numerous new sets of landing gear and still only two planes out of a four plane expedition from America's precursor to the air force made it around the world the first time, back in 1924. One plane actually crashed into a mountain before the west coast-based trip even left the continent.

The pilots flew the entire way in exposed cockpits.

Suggested By: PelicanHazard, Photo Credit: US Army

7.) The Wright Brothers' First Flight


What it must have felt like in the middle of nowhere in 1903, as a couple of bicycle makers, to control a heavier-than-air vehicle in flight.

Suggested By: DDDeeeennnnnnyyyCCCrrraaannneee, Photo Credit: Library of Congress


6.) An Unprepared Flight Around The World (Almost)


The crew of the Pacific Clipper (NC18602) didn't make it around the world, but they came close. What makes it amazing is that they had no intention of making the trip. Reader space_nut_in_ca explains.

Perhaps the most amazing UNPLANNED expedition would be the flight of the Pacific Clipper at the outbreak of WWII. The Pan Am flying boat was on its last leg to Auckland when the war broke out. It 's orders? "Normal return route canceled. Proceed as follows: Strip all company marking, registration numbers and identifiable insignia from exterior surfaces. Proceed westbound soonest your discretion to avoid hostilities and deliver NC18602 to marine terminal La Guardia Field New York. Good luck." Totally unprepared, they had to fly WEST around the world instead of crossing back over the Pacific.

Memorialized in the book "The Long Way Home" by Ed Dover. Good read.

Suggested By: space_nut_in_ca, Photo Credit: Boeing

5.) The SR-71 Record Flights


For once, I can let the numbers do the talking:

  • New York to London 1 hr 54 min 56.4 sec.
  • London to Los Angeles 3 hrs 47 min 39 sec.
  • West Coast to East Coast USA 1 hr 7 min 53.6 sec.
  • Los Angeles To Washington D.C. 1 hr 4 min 19.8 sec.
  • St Louis To Cincinnati 8 min 31.9 sec.
  • Kansas City to Washington D.C. 25 min 58.5 sec.

For more on the absurd capabilities of the SR-71, read this story right here.

Suggested By: Gamecat235, Photo Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

4.) Mathias Rust Into Red Square


In the deeper depths of the Cold War, a German teenager flew a little Cessna from Finland straight into the Red Square. It was so unbelievable, none of the Soviets could get any orders to shoot him down.

You can read more about the flight that landed him in jail and possibly helped ease East/West tension right here.


Suggested By: Fl1ngstam and Uak42, Photo Credit: AP

3.) The Space Shuttle's Highest Orbit


Every shuttle flight is almost legendary by now, but I'll just point out one. The highest orbit the Space Shuttle has ever flown was for perhaps its most enduring mission: carrying the Hubble Telescope to space. It was the heaviest thing they'd ever taken up, and it wasn't long after Challenger.

Suggested By: JayHawkJake, Photo Credit: NASA

2.) First Controlled Break Of The Sound Barrier


Here's the thing: Yeager wasn't the first person to break the sound barrier, and nor was the Bell X-1 'Glamorous Glennis' the first plane to do it. Their 1947 flight was the first controlled break of the sound barrier. To explain why that should stand as such an achievement, and why it's still almost horrifying today, reader Sean Malloy describes how uncontrolled supersonic 'flight' was like before Yeager.

The 'sound barrier' wasn't a "you can't go faster than this speed" issue and never was; the problem was doing it in controlled flight. Supersonic airflows did strange things to aircraft controls; in particular was a phenomenon known as "mach tuck", where an aircraft in a dive approaching Mach 1, the elevators would become unusable and the aircraft would pitch down in a steeper and steeper dive until the airframe failed. Recovery was only possible if the pilot was able to create enough drag to slow the aircraft below its critical speed.


Suggested By: macanamera and Sean Malloy, Photo Credit: NASA

1.) First Solo Transatlantic Flight


Everyone knows about Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, but it's the little details that make it almost unbelievable even today. Like, that the oil tank was used as a bulkhead. Meaning there was no front window. Reader Selfishcuckoo explains.

Everything about the plane was designed to accommodate the largest engine and carry the most fuel. For this reason, the fuel and oil tanks were in the front— with the oil tank between the cockpit and the fuel tank, to act as a firewall of sorts. There was no windscreen. If Lindbergh wanted to see forward, he'd have to yaw the plane a bit so he could look out the side window.

The rules of The Orteig Prize stated the flight had to be from New York to Paris, so Lindbergh first had to fly the plane from San Diego, where it was built, to New York. He was the first person to solo over the Rockies in that trip.

To allow as much fuel as possible, Lindbergh had no radio, and even trimmed the margins of his flight map. He refused to carry any souvenir letters or gifts. He took a small amount of water and a couple of sandwiches for the flight. Even with all the weight removed, the plane carried a lot of fuel, and he barely cleared the telephone lines at the end of the runway.

He managed to hit all of his navigation marks using a compass, the stars, and dead reckoning. Through the storm he flew through snow, ice, and fog, and could barely see at times. When he made it to Paris, it was dark, so he couldn't use his map to find Le Bourget field— he followed the parade of car headlights out of the city.



Suggested By: macanamera and selfishcuckoo, Photo Credit: AP

Welcome back to Answers of the Day - our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!


Top Photo Credit: NASA (full size and full res right here)

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