On July 19, 1934, Colonel Henry “Hap” Arnold led a flight of 10 new Martin B-10 bombers on a roundtrip flight from Bolling Field, Washington D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska. Arnold had been the commander of March Field and the 1st Bombardment Wing since November of 1931. The intent of the mission was to demonstrate the capabilities of the Air Corp’s long-range bombers and the aircraft’s ability to penetrate into isolated regions over vast distances. The B-10 bomber was the first all metal, low wing monoplane, and was perhaps the most technologically advanced aircraft in the U.S. inventory at the time.
According to the National Museum of the Air Force, the B-10 featured such innovations as retractable landing gear, a rotating gun turret and enclosed cockpits. Powered by two 775-hp Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, the advanced design made the B-10 50 percent faster than contemporary biplane bombers and as fast as most of the fighters. This capability convinced many U.S. Army Air Corps planners that bombers could successfully attack strategic targets without long-range fighter escort.
Arnold and his group of 30 officers and men prepared for over month for the 18,000 mile roundtrip flight. On the morning of July 24, Arnold and his team arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, having made seven stops along the route. The Alaska mission concluded on August 20, 1934 with the return flight having made the first non-stop flight between Alaska and the lower forty-eight states. The mission was a success and earned Arnold a second Mackay Trophy and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Despite attempts by Arnold, none of the other crew members received any awards.
In addition to the primary focus of the mission, the crew was also able to complete photographic work that was critical to mapping and surveying the area. This work would eventually aid future strategic plans for the defense of Alaska. Arnold’s Alaska mission provided the American public a vision of the potential of airpower and a glimpse of the heroes that would usher in an age of aviation.
The 452nd AMW currently has an open position for a historian at March Field. If interested, please contact the 452nd AMW at (951) 655-4521 or a Reserve recruiter.