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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Wade, CW-015000-01, -04, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


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Leigh Wade, December 20, 1924 (Source: NASM)
Leigh Wade, December 20, 1924 (Source: NASM)


Leigh Wade was both a military and civilian pilot. He graduated from the U.S. Army flying school in 1917. He was rated a pilot and commissioned a first lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the Officers' Reserve Corps. He served in the Corps continuously until March, 1926 when he reverted to inactive status. He left the military and became an aircraft sales executive with Consolidated Aircraft, for which he was test pilot from 1928 to 1929. He worked with Consolidated in the U.S. and in South America until 1941.

But, earlier, he had gained fame by succeeding in one of the most challenging aerial exercises of the Golden Age. At left, Wade looks at us just a couple of months after he and several other Register pilots circumnavigated the world by air for the very first time between April 6th and September 28,1924. This photograph, from his NASM biographical file (cited, left sidebar), is signed in the lower right, "To L.G. Hessler from Leigh Wade, Dec. 20, 1924." Leo G. Hessler was a White House photographer.

Leigh Wade, Pilot of the Boston & Boston II, 1924 (Source: NASM)
Leigh Wade, Pilot of the Boston & Boston II, 1924 (Source: NASM)




Leigh Wade was born February 2, 1897 at Cassopolis, MI and died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia August 31, 1991 at Fort Belvoir, VA, age 94. He visited Tucson twice. His first landing was not recorded in the Register, because there was no Register on the desk at the airfield at the time.

Wade, at age 27, right, was one of eight Army aviators who took off from Seattle to fly around the globe westbound in four single-engine, purpose-built Douglas aircraft. The 175-day, 26,345-mile mission included 73 stops in a couple of dozen countries. This REFERENCE is an excellent analysis of the World Flight, as it became known. The reference cites Wade as a very bright child who found school boring, except for mathematics. Craving adventure, he left home early and joined the National Guard, thence to Mexico hunting Pancho Villa. There he saw and became interested in military airplanes and transferred to the Air Service.

He learned to fly and was sent to France flying Nieuport fighters. He took over command of the 120th Aero Squadron, where he tested and flew U.S. and captured German aircraft. Upon his return to the U.S. be became an experimental test pilot and set an altitude record of 27,120 feet (see Apollo Soucek for examples of other altitude records set by a Register pilot for the Navy). The reference describes Wade as, "... compulsively neat, orderly, and extremely fastidious earning him the approbation of 'The Shiek of Cassopolis' by his fellow crew members."

Regarding his landings at Tucson, with Wade at the controls of one aircraft, the BostonII, we know he landed during September 21-22, 1924. Tucson was one of the homeward bound stops made by the Douglas World Cruisers (DWC), as the aircraft were named.

We know he was there because we are fortunate to have posted on this site original photographs and information about the Douglas World Cruisers and crews when they landed at Tucson. Please direct your browser to the World Flight Section of the C.B. Cosgrove Photograph and Document Collection.

Besides the World Flight, this Collection contains photographs and documents related to a good number of other Register signers and aircraft. Please spend some time there to explore the rich environment of Cosgrove's Collection as it relates to the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register.

In the World Flight Section of the Cosgrove Collection, you'll see photographs of all the DWC, as well as some of Wade's fellow officers. Among them are Lowell Smith, Les Arnold, Erik Nelson, Henry Ogden, Alva Harvey and John Harding, Jr. Of them, only Harding was not a Register signer. Particularly, please direct your browser to Arnold's link to review lists of items carried on the World Flight, as well as read flight log entries made by Arnold.

You'll also see photographs of the four DWC in the Collection. They were DWC #1, the Seattle, flown by Frederick Martin and Harvey as copilot/mechanic, the Chicago, DWC #2, flown by Lowell Smith and Turner, the Boston, DWC #3, which crashed due to engine problems in the North Atlantic near Greenland and was replaced with the Boston II with Wade continuing as pilot and Ogden as copilot/mechanic), DWC #4, the New Orleans, flown by Erik Nelson and John Harding. The Seattle, Martin and Harvey did not finish the World Flight, having crashed in Alaska early in their adventure. The versatile DWC could function as pontoon-mounted seaplanes or with landing wheels.

To put their feat in context, it was only a year earlier, on May 2, 1923, the Fokker T-2 with John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly as pilots, flew non-stop from New York to California. On September 28, 1924, after stops in San Diego and other ports up the west coast, the flight arrived back at Seattle. They had completed 363 hours of flying time in a flight environment that included few airports, no navigation aids, no radio communciations and scarce to unreliable weather information. They flew an average speed of 90MPH at an average altitude of 2,000 feet.

They faced the cold and blizzards of the Arctic and the tropical heat, disease and sand storms of the Middle East, India and China. There were no maintenance facilities and they had to do their own maintenance including airframe repairs and engine changes. A total of 26 V-12, water-cooled Liberty engines were changed during the flight.

Below, a photograph of part of the celebration after their return in 1924. To the right of the driver are Lowell Smith, Wade and Erik Nelson. The photograph was taken during the National Defense Day event, Washingon, DC.

World Flight Festivities, 1924 (Source: NASM)
World Flight Festivities, 1924 (Source: NASM)

Upon their return, the crews were called, "The Magellans of the Air." The World Flight was hailed as, "The greatest aviation achievement since the Wright Brothers flight." In 1974 at the celebration of the 50th anniversary the flight was cited by scientists and historians as, "the equivalent of putting a man on the moon considering the circumstances and state of the art at the time."

Wade's second visit at Tucson was on Thursday, August 15, 1929, landing at 6:45PM. He carried one passenger, J.W. Lynch, in the Fleet NC404K. Based at Buffalo, NY, they were eastbound from Los Angeles, CA to Lordsburg, NM. They remained overnight at Tucson, departing Friday morning at 5:45AM.

His fleet was manufactured by the Consolidated company, which, at the time, was based at Buffalo, NY. Wade was about a year into his 12-year career with Consolidated. As WWII approached, he returned to active duty with the Air Corps as a major and was assigned to the Air Intelligence Section. In June, 1941, he transferred to the 1st Bomber Command at Mitchel Field, LI, NY, where he served as an assistant for plans and training. Based on his experience with the planning and logistics of the World Flight, this assignment suited him. During World War II, he was commander of Batista Field in Cuba. He rose in rank to Major General.

Wade was air attache to Greece, Brazil and Argentina after World War II. He retired from the Air Force in 1955 and was an assistant to the chairman of Kemper Insurance Co., until his final retirement in 1966. He lived a good long time after his retirement.

Wade has a good Web presence, with over 22,000 Google hits for "Leigh Wade" +aviation as of the upload date of this page. As you might expect, much of the information on the Web is related to the World Flight. The National Archives Web site includes an excellent short summary of the World Flight at the link.

For his contributions to that flight, he received the Army Distinguished Service Medal. The award read as follows:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to First Lieutenant (Air Service) Leigh Wade, United States Army Air Service, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility during World War I. First Lieutenant Wade, as Pilot of Airplane No. 3, the "Boston," and Supply Officer of the United States Army Air Service around-the-world flight from 6 April 1924 to 28 September 1924, displayed a remarkable degree of courage, energy, and resourcefulness in carrying out these duties, in addition to actually piloting his airplane throughout the voyage. His sound judgment and foresight were material factors in contributing to the successful achievement of this pioneer flight of airplanes around the world. He has assisted materially in bringing a signal honor to himself and to the military forces of the United States.


Dossier 2.1.158


The Register
I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Wade and his Fleet airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.
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