Story Time with Aunt Phil: Black Wolf Squadron
Black Wolf Squadron lands in Nome, Aug. 23, 1920
The U.S. Army Service’s famed “Black Wolf Squadron” planted its mark on Alaska history in 1920, when four biplanes flew across our northern skies in an attempt to prove the feasibility of long-distance air travel. The New York-to-Nome Alaskan Flying Expedition, as it was known, was comprised of a squad of four airmen with crew members flying wheeled DH-4 de Havilland biplanes.
The crew left Fort Mitchell in New York bound for Fort Davis in Nome on July 15. As the pilot of Plane No. 4, Lt. Ross C. Kirkpatrick, flew over Juneau en route to Whitehorse on August 16, he made history for Alaska’s capital city.
He airdropped a copy of the New York Times out of the plane for Territorial Gov. Thomas J. Riggs Jr. It was the first mail to arrive in Alaska via air. The newspaper had to be collected from the roof of the Brunswick Hotel, and Gov. Riggs later sent a letter of thanks to Kirkpatrick.
The de Havilland DH-4, which had been used during daytime bombing raids during World War I, actually began flying mail beginning in 1918. According to the Smithsonian, where a DH-4 is on display, it was a rugged plane, “ideally suited for the task of delivering mail throughout the United States.”
But dropping mail to our territorial governor was not the main mission of the Black Wolf Squadron. The transcontinental flight was conceived by Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, who whole-heartedly supported air travel in the Far North. He called Alaska the “Air Crossroads of the World,” and even predicted that Japan would bomb Alaska one day.
He wanted to prove that Alaska truly was accessible by air – by friends and enemies alike. The Black Wolf Squadron flight marked the starting point for further aviation development, and soon aviators like Carl Ben Eielson and Noel Wien were soaring in the skies over Alaska.
The squadron became the first to fly to Alaska from New York, the first to fly up the Gastineau Channel and the first airmen and warplanes that many Alaskans saw. The sight of the World War I bombers overhead thrilled residents in many Alaska towns, including Wrangell, Skagway, Fairbanks and Nome, where the planes landed on August 23, 1920.
It took the Black Wolf Squadron a little more than three months to fly the entire route. They arrived back in New York on Oct. 20, with an actual flying time of 112 air hours for the 9,000-mile journey.
In 1929, the men of the Black Wolf Squadron were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their historic flight.
Capt. St. Clair Streett
Sgt. E. Henriques
Lt. C. E. Crumrine
Lt. C. C. Nutt
Lt. E. H. Nelson
Lt. R. C. Kirkpatrick
Sgt. J. E. Long
Sgt. J. E. English
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