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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Kelly, CK-172000-01, -80 , reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

There are many hits to explore if you Google "Oakley Kelly".

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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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OAKLEY G. KELLY

OAKLEY G. KELLY landed twice at the Davis-Monthan Airfield. Both flights, on January 14, 1928 and November 6, 1931, were solo and both appeared to be routine cross-country excursions in military aircraft. His rank was lieutenant. He is most known for an earlier cross-country flight made with fellow officer, John A. Macready. Their adventure follows.

FAMOUS FOR 15 MINUTES

As reviewed in the NY Herald-Tribune for Friday May 4, 1923, Oakley Kelly is best known for his transcontinental airplane flight on Wednesday May 2, 1923, when he and John A. Macready flew a single-engine, high wing Army Fokker T-2 over the 2,625 miles from Mitchel Field, NY to San Diego, CA in 26 hours 50 minutes and 48 seconds. This set the record for transcontinental flight by a heavier than air craft. Their airplane was not refueled enroute. An image and additional information about Fokker 64-233 is at the NASM Web site. The photo, below, is from the May 4th article. Kelly is on the right.

The media heralded their flight as a harbinger of new commercial and military advantages. From the military perspective, the Herald-Tribune reports, “…a non-stop transcontinental air voyage indicates the feasibility of transporting men, messages, equipment or any other vital necessity from one coast to the other in an incredibly short space of time.” And, “Another feature regarded of secondary importance is the demonstration that it is possible to concentrate large numbers of airplanes at any desired point within the United States on short notice.”

From the commercial perspective, “…the accomplishment of the two pilots is expected to encourage aircraft companies to organize aerial transport services and establish an increased number of landing fields and air routes over the country.”

The Herald-Tribune article described the takeoff from NY as a dangerous one for the pilots, due to the 780 gallons of fuel carried, as well as 32 gallons of oil and 25 gallons of water. Their aircraft was 49 feet long with a wingspread of 74 feet, 10 inches. It was equipped with a Liberty engine, which the pilots operated at an impressive 90% power the entire way.

Their flight, which began at 12:36:53 on May 2nd, was made without weather reports, flying instruments, radio or parachutes. The airplane was so heavy they were forced early in the flight to fly just above the ground and below clouds, through rain, storms and night.

FAINT PRAISE

Upon landing at Rockwell Field, Riverside, CA, Rockwell Commandant, and Register pilot, Major Henry “Hap” Arnold endured the crush of spectators to greet the pilots. He said, “Congratulations! It was a marvelous flight and we are surely proud of you.”

General Pershing wired, “We have been following you with great interest. The army is proud of your wonderful achievement. Please accept my official and personal greetings and congratulations.”

Major General Patrick, Chief of the Army Air Service, telegraphed, “I extend to you most hearty congratulations upon your successful completion of world’s record, non-stop flight from New York to San Diego. This flight is viewed with pride by all Air Service officers, and brings to this country increased prestige in the world of aeronautics. It is the fruit of a determined and courageous effort of which you may both be justly proud.”

President Harding telegraphed a sentence with five (count them) hyphens, “Accept my most cordial congratulations on the success of your record-making, non-stop, coast-to-coast flight, successfully completed to-day. You have written a new chapter in the triumphs of American aviation.”

UNEXPECTED, AND UNDESERVED, CONSEQUENCES

Now comes an article in the Los Angeles Times of May 21, 1923. “The United States is shamefully lacking in extending recognition to its national defenders who perform some valorous deed or distinguished service for their country, according to Secretary of War Weeks.

“The War Secretary’s apology for such humiliating but unavoidable conduct of the nation’s leaders was voiced in an address to his party of Senators and Congressmen and to Army aviators at…Rockwell Field today. It was his reply to an appeal for governmental recognition of the historic nonstop flight…by Lieuts. Kelly and Macready.

“…Kelly and Macready … must content themselves with remaining as first lieutenants. They will receive no promotion to captaincies or any other ranks for their record flight. They will receive no increase in pay or any compensation for helping to boost their country to the forefront of all air forces in the world. They will receive no medals. Such was the verdict they heard from the Secretary of War as they sat silently across the luncheon table from the highest official in the United States Army.”

Oakley Kelly, December 26, 1924
Oakley Kelly, December 26, 1924

Overlooking this lapse, in a broader sense, even though it was unrefueled, their flight was the forerunner of later, longer (in time and distance) flights with air-to-air refueling that were made in the later 1920's and 30's. The most significant military example might be the 7-day flight made by the "Question Mark", another Fokker aircraft that visited Tucson, with its crew (including Carl Spatz, Elwood Quesada and Ira Eaker) just days before setting its record.

Likewise, their flight stood on the shoulders of lessons learned from the "Round-the-Rim" flight led by Register pilot E.E. Harmon. Harmon and his crew flew the circumference of the U.S. national borders in a Martin bomber just a few years earlier during 1919.

A short time after the transcontinental flight, Kelly appeared in the papers again December 26, 1924, at left, from the Oakland Tribune. We should be pleased that this paper exhibits a formal portrait including his wife.

Kelly and a passenger were flying from Vancouver, WA to San Francisco, CA, Crissy Field when they made a precautionary landing at Marysville, CA because of darkness. Their landing was unscheduled and unannounced, thereby causing some concern by the Army. A search was begun as soon as they became "overdue". Note that the fillers from the other reporting stations were a little behind in their "news".

Interestingly, another "filler" at the bottom of this same newspaper announced the death of the engineer who sailed on the Monitor during its battle with the Merrimac.

Oakley Kelly retired from military service as a Colonel on March 31, 1948. He died at age 74 in San Diego, CA.

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Dossier 2.2.43

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 12/17/05 REVISED: 10/12/07, 02/02/09, 05/04/10

As of May 4, 2010, this page is Google rank #1 for a search on "Oakley G. Kelly."

 
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Another Resource
T-2 Book

The book, above, published in 1964 is entitled "The First Nonstop Coast-to-Coast Flight and the Historic T-2 Airplane". It presents the entire story of the preparations and execution of the flight. Click on the image of the book to download the text from the Smithsonian's Web site.

Another image of the Fokker T-2 is available here on this site.

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Thanks to Mike Gerow for sharing his copy of the Oakland Tribune, below.

 
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