From the early 1900s to the mid-1940s, there was a big push in the US for air travel. The Wright brothers had flown a flight in 1903, but a few years later the US had to wait for the Europeans to fly the Atlantic for the first time. But the Wright Brothers had a clear vision of where they wanted to go with aviation and they started working on building a plane to achieve that goal. They built a plane that was capable of flying at a reasonable altitude.
The journey of Schlee and Brock’s 1927 Around-the-World attempt is considered by many to be one of the most notable and significant adventure achievements of the early 20th century. Their journey began in the summer of 1925 when Schlee, a 22 year old engineer from Germany, and Brock, a 30 year old engineer from the UK, decided to undertake what could be described as a modern-day ‘traveling circus’. That’s right, they planned to spend the summer of 1927 flying across the Atlantic Ocean and around the world in just sixteen months.
Schlee and Brock’s 1927 Around-the-World Attempt is a blog that serves as a chronicle of their journey around the world in 1927.. Read more about this week in history and let us know what you think.In 1927, following Lindbergh’s transatlantic success, two men from the Midwest undertook an attempt to fly around the world in a single-engine Stinson airplane.
The mid-1920s was a time of challenges in aviation. The pilots pushed themselves and their planes to the limit and broke records. In April 1924, four Douglas World Cruiser biplanes, each with a crew of two, departed for a flight around the world and covered nearly 24,000 miles in 175 days, with two planes completing the round trip. Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic crossing in May 1927 took less than 34 hours, earned him $25,000 in prize money, and sparked even more interest in difficult and risky flights across the ocean. Three months after Lindbergh’s famous flight, Ed Schley and Bill Brock attempted to fly around the world in a plane not much bigger than the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh’s Louis is truly a Herculean task.
Edward F. Schley was born in Detroit in 1887. After World War I, he and his brothers founded the Wayco Oil Corporation, which eventually owned about 100 gas stations in the metropolitan area. Schley learned to fly and also had an air taxi service with Stinson biplanes. His chief pilot was Bill Brock.
William S. Brock was born in Ohio in 1895 and attended Glen Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport, New York at the age of 15. Brock had no money for the $150 tuition, so Curtiss told him to write home to get the money. At the time, he worked in the kitchen to cover the cost of food. Brock didn’t know Curtiss, took flying lessons from one of the instructors and was flying solo within a week. It didn’t take long for the instructor to say it: Boy, you’re just as good as I am.
The development of aviation technology was supported by many influential people of the time, including the industrialist Henry Ford and his son Edsel. The Ford Company, founded in Dearborn, Michigan, has sponsored an annual Ford National Reliability Air Tour since 1925 to promote public confidence in air safety. The 1927 tour, which took place from June 27. to July 12, covered over 4,000 miles and was won by the same Stinson SM-1 Detroiter that Schley and Brock used in their flight. Eddie Stinson, co-founder of Stinson Aircraft, was the pilot and was accompanied by Schley, Schley’s wife and other passengers. The plane was originally named Miss Wayco, after Schlee, but was renamed Pride of Detroit for the trip around the world.
From left to right: Eddie Rickenbacker, John Doe, Brock, Schley, Henry Ford and Edsel Ford confer in Dearborn, Michigan, next to Schley and Brock’s SM-1 Detroit car. (Walter F. Reuther Library, Archives on Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University).
Like Henry and Edsel Ford, Schley wanted to prove the reliability of aviation. Our flight is not a trick, he said. Our main purpose is to show, perhaps dramatically, but without a doubt, how easy and practical air transport is today. An additional goal was to break the world record for sailing around the world, which at that time was 28½ days. An attempt to do so was made in 1926 by Linton Wells and Edward Evans, who used steamships, trains, automobiles and airplanes for their multimodal journey. Schley and Brock had planned their trip to be 100% in the air.
Flying around the world with 1920’s technology was a big challenge. The theft would have been expensive; Wayco’s profits allowed Schley to set aside $100,000. He also organized the route and designated refueling, maintenance and rest areas. Organizing these and other logistical arrangements took about a year, during which we had to deal with slow communication, language translations, and foreign government bureaucracy. The U.S. Navy is committed to supporting flight segments in the Pacific.
The SM-1 Detroiter chosen for the trip cost $12,000 and accommodated up to six passengers. It was 33 feet long, had a wingspan of 45.8 feet, and was powered by a 220 hp Wright J-5 Whirlwind engine that had a top speed of 122 mph.
The reliable Wright Whirlwind has been a real boon to long-range aviation. The air-cooled 9-cylinder star engine weighed less than liquid-cooled engines, allowing it to carry more fuel. In addition, the simpler and lighter design allowed fewer problems to arise.
All free space in the cabin is used to store fuel and oil. The instrument panel included several engine gauges, an airspeed meter, an altimeter, and a more stable mass induction compass than the previous aircraft, making it easier to maintain course during flight for long periods. There was no radio on board.
Fearing that the Detroit’s noisy engine would put them to sleep, the pilots installed balsa wood in the cabin to muffle the noise. For more comfort while sleeping, a felt is placed on the gas tank in the cockpit. Brock, who was small, thought he had plenty of room, but Schley, who was larger, had to be an acrobat to fit into that limited space. Additional five-liter gas cylinders in the cockpit exacerbated the muggy conditions.
Tokyo had planned to have an extra engine in case a replacement was needed. A conversion table with axes for time and distance and data points for different airspeeds allowed aviators to estimate distances flown.
The official starting point should have been Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, but there were problems with that location: There was no runway. To address this situation, Fred Koehler of Stinson traveled to Newfoundland to meet with residents. A spot at Crow Hill was chosen, and on the 25th. In July 1927, the Town Council authorized the construction of an airstrip, with assistance from local residents and the Newfoundland government. In early August, workers cleared an area some 4,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. With heavy manual labour and horse-drawn carts, stones and other debris were removed from the site, which became a planting field. It was completed shortly before the Pride of Detroit arrived.
Newfoundlanders build a 4000 foot runway for airmen. (Concepcion Bay Museum Archives)
Schley and Brock didn’t care about publicity. A July 1927 letter from Warner Advertising to Schlee indicates that press releases about the flight were sent to local magazines and other publications. Several ads were made to promote the use of Shell gasoline because Wayco was a Shell distributor.
The planes took off on the 23rd. August from Ford Airfield to Dearborn with stops in New York and Maine before arriving at Harbor Grace (it’s not known why the aviators just didn’t list Dearborn as the official takeoff point). Brock was confident they could complete the trip in less than 18 days, flying just over 22,000 miles in 240 hours at an average speed of 92 miles per hour. He brought a jolly rabbit’s paw to make it more convincing.
Schley and Brock flew over on the 27th. August from Harbor Grace to England. Twenty-four hours later, they’re on land, but they don’t know where: England, Wales, Ireland or even France. They threw a message, weighted with an orange, at some onlookers in a small fishing village. When locals pulled out a large Union Jack flag and waved it, the airmen realized they were over England, got their bearings and landed in Croydon.
After the transatlantic crossing, Schley shakes hands with an official at Croydon airport in England as Brock looks on. (Watford/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
There were still many air miles ahead of us. After leaving England they stopped in Germany, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iraq, Persia (Iran), Pakistan, India, Burma, Indochina, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Japan. Shley and Brock have overcome many challenges, all of which could have led to disaster. They could not find Stuttgart airport, which they later learned was 15 miles south of the city, so they chose Munich. Taking off from Hong Kong was very risky, as the heavy rain the day before departure had left the unpaved field in poor condition, especially for a heavily loaded aircraft. Service was a constant concern. One day, after a full day of flying, Brock spent over three hours repairing the magneto and adjusting the engine levers and rocker arms.
None of the men expected to rest. If we get five hours a day, we’re satisfied, Brock said. The food was what was available. According to him, language is not important because we know the movements and gestures. While Brock did most of the flying, Schley calculated the drift and pumped fuel from the reserves into the main tanks.
The weather has caused its own problems. The crew faced storms in the eastern Atlantic, heat and dust in southern Persia, and severe storms in India and Southeast Asia. Brock later said that the most dangerous part of the flight was that after taking off from Shanghai, they were ambushed by a monsoon and tossed around mercilessly. After leaving China, they were forced by storms to reach the Japanese island of Kyushu. When she was 13. By September, they had covered more than 12,000 miles in 19 days. But there was a long crossing of the Pacific Ocean ahead.
The transatlantic phase will be extremely difficult and risky. From Tokyo, Schley and Brock had to find Midway Atoll, some 2,500 miles away. Midway consists mainly of two small islands, each about two miles long and half a mile wide, with a maximum height of 45 feet – essentially expanses of sand in the ocean. After Midway, two more long-distance flights over water would be required: 1,440 miles to Honolulu and then 2,400 miles to San Francisco.
At the time, in 1927, a series of tragedies had led the public to question the desirability of transoceanic flights. Four days before Schley and Brock left Newfoundland, Paul Redfern departed from Sea Island, Haiti, in a Stinson Detroiter across the Caribbean Sea for Rio de Janeiro and disappeared in the Amazon forest (see Missing Flight to Brazil, January 2023). In August, Canadian aviators Terrence Tully and James Medcalf attempted a flight from London, Ontario to London, England. Some time after leaving Newfoundland on 7. September, his Detroiter disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean. In another tragedy, 10 people were killed during the Dole Air Race in August from California to Hawaii. The Navy spent millions of dollars searching for these missing airmen, but abandoned its efforts due to a very limited budget. As a result, the Navy withdrew its offer of assistance to Schley and Brock. Navy Secretary Curtis Wilbur said the service will no longer support people who attempt suicide.
Meanwhile, hundreds of telegrams were sent to the American Embassy in Tokyo urging the airmen to cease their activities. The press and aviation experts began calling the trip a suicide flight. One telegram in particular, received by the American consul, may have tipped the scales. It was written by Schley’s young children, Rosemary and Teddy: Daddy, honey, bring the boat home. We miss you. Schley’s wife hopes the pilots will be careful and take the boat to Vancouver.
Under increasing pressure, Schley and Brock decided to go for the 15. September to cancel the rest of the flight. Next lady. After Schley, they returned to the United States on a passenger ship carrying the partially decommissioned Pride of Detroit. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Schley noticed that his decision was influenced by both public opinion and a change of heart in the Navy: After receiving about 800 telegrams from his friends and family that it was suicide, we decided to drop it.
Pride of Detroit lands in San Francisco after returning by ship. (Aviation History Collection/Almy)
Both pilots repacked their aircraft in San Francisco and returned home. After several stops, they landed on the 4th. October in Dearborn. Friends and family held a parade and then a reception that evening, where Schley collapsed from exhaustion.
The Detroit Free Press summarized his accomplishments: Schley and Brock have traveled more than half the world with only brief stops in between, crossing oceans and continents, mountain ranges and deserts, and braving severe storms in unfamiliar lands and waters. Their skill and courage never failed, and their machine proved unstoppable. They have demonstrated the feasibility of long-range missions over long distances. All this together makes their journey the greatest flight.
After the robbery, Schley and Brock were pretty famous. In a speech in Lansing, Michigan, they addressed the audience with these words: Today, aviation is safe, sensible and practical. In 1928, Schlee sold Wayco Oil Corporation and used the proceeds to finance companies such as Schlee-Brock Aircraft Corporation, which sold Lockheed Vegas, among others. The two men had made several long-distance flights across the country, but nothing like their attempt to fly around the world.
When the airline industry fell victim to the Depression, the Pride of Detroit was auctioned off in 1931 to pay off debts. It was once stored in a barn. The plane was later restored and is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, not far from where Schley and Brock began their world tour.
Bill Brock died of cancer in 1932 at the age of 36. Ed Schley worked as an aircraft inspector for Packard during World War II and died in 1969. Their flights, and those of countless men and women since, have led to significant advances in aviation technology and safety. A round trip can now be made in just a few days, with a minimum of stopovers and a level of comfort and safety that Schley and Brock could only dream of.
Barry Levine works at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, volunteers at the Yankee Aviation Museum in Belleville, Michigan, and writes on a variety of aviation and history-related topics. For further reading, he recommends: Detroitland: A collection of lost souls, touching and flickering, and historical figures from Detroit’s past, Richard Buck.
This article was published in the March 2023 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here !
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