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Flashback Friday: Melrose pilot first to fly around the world non-stop in 1949

Gov. Luther Youngdahl greets Capt. Jim Gallagher. Photo: Melrose Area Historical Society
Gov. Luther Youngdahl greets Capt. Jim Gallagher.

Updated: March 06, 2020 12:02 PM

Minnesota claims Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to make a trans-Atlantic flight, as its own. However, Lindbergh isn't the only famous pilot to call the Land of 10,000 Lakes home. 

Minnesota also gets to claim Capt. James Gallagher. 

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Gallagher, of Melrose, was part of the 14-member crew of the Boeing B-50 Superfortress Lady Luck II that made the first non-stop flight around the world in March 1949. 

According to the Minneapolis Star, Gallagher was born and raised in Melrose. Gallagher graduated from high school in 1939 and went on to study at Minneapolis Business College before joining the armed forces and fighting in World War II. 


Melrose residents greet Capt. James Gallagher as the town celebrated his flight around the world.

Photo courtesy of the Melrose Area Historical Society. 


The mission of a non-stop flight around the world, according to Air Force Magazine, was meant to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that American aircraft could fly anywhere and could "mount a credible attack." The Air Force, which had only existed for two years, also needed to be able to show off its credibility. 

The idea for the flight came after an Air Force general was able to successfully fly from Texas to Hawaii and back. 

While the flight was meant to promote the Air Force, the planning and preparation were kept secret. Even the members of the crew were not allowed to speak to their families about the mission. 

But not everyone was tricked. 

"I figured something must be up," Cornelius Gallagher, the pilot's father, told the Minneapolis Star after the news broke. "We hadn't heard a word from him since before Christmas. He had planned to come out here around New Year's. Got a 30-day leave and all that. Then the leave was suddenly canceled." 

What is seen as the most impressive part of the flight is how the Lady Luck II was able to refuel mid-air.

The Lady Luck II was assisted in fueling by four KB-29M Superfortresses. According to the World Air Sports Federation, the Lucky Lady II would release a cable that was connected to a fuel hose that would be drawn into the assisting plane. That plane would then rise above the Lady Luck II, allowing gravity to help with fuel flow. 

The Lady Luck II took off from Carswell Air Force Base in Texas at 12:21 p.m. on Feb. 26, 1949. 

During the flight, the Lady Luck II flew between 10,000 to 20,000 feet in the air, traveling at an average of 249 miles per hour, according to the World Air Sports Federation.

The plane refueled in air four times, over the Azores, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Hawaii. 

Gallagher and his crew returned to Carswell 94 hours and one minute later on March 2, 1994. 

After the flight, Gallagher told the Minneapolis Star, "This just means that man can fly anywhere, anytime."

Gallagher added, "Boy, I'm sleepy."


The city of Melrose celebrated Capt. James Gallagher's non-stop flight around the world with a parade on May 20, 1949.

Photo courtesy of the Melrose Area Historical Society. 


Gallagher's wife told the Minneapolis Morning Tribune she was stunned when he called to tell her the news, being especially puzzled at how he was able to do so without "any place to fill up on gas." 

"Even when he phoned and told me I could hardly believe it," the wife told the newspaper.

News broke of the historic flight in the pilot's central Minnesota home after the Minneapolis Star called Gallagher's father and high school principal. Gallagher's father told the newspaper he "wasn't terribly surprised."

His brother, Charles, told the Minneapolis Star, "I had no notion the kid brother would turn into such a hero." 

Another one of Gallagher's brothers told the paper the flight was "the greatest feat a Gallagher has ever performed." 

The town of Melrose went on to celebrate the feat on May 20, 1949, which was also the 22nd anniversary of Lindbergh's landing in Paris. 

According to the Melrose Area Historical Society, the celebration started with a caravan that left Minneapolis. When the caravan reached Melrose, it was met with a parade. As the pilot and his family rode in an open car, F-882 fighter planes flew above. The celebration was presided over by Minnesota Gov. Luther Youngdahl and radio commentator Cedric Adams. 

Gallagher and his crew received multiple awards for the flight, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the MacKay Trophy, according to Air Force Magazine

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