‘Last Roar of the Mighty Liberty V-12’: Seattle II’s engine fired up one final time in Chehalis


Though it took a few tries to get it started, Centralia aviator Robert “Bob” Dempster fired up the legendary Liberty V-12 engine that powers his hand-built reproduction Douglas World Cruiser, the Seattle II, on Saturday, June 8, at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport.

“She says, ‘I don’t like to be sitting around all winter,’” Bob said while attempting to start the engine.

Once it was fired up, the more than 100 spectators in attendance were treated to the sound of the biplane’s motor in an event dubbed the “Last Roar of the Mighty Liberty V-12.”

The engine helped power many historic milestone flights during aviation’s infancy a century ago, including the first flight around the world made by the Douglas World Cruisers in 1924.

Bob, along with his wife and fellow aviator, Diane Dempster, began work on the Seattle II in 2001 with the goal of building a new Douglas World Cruiser to retrace the route of the first flight around the world in honor of its 100th anniversary this year.

Together with the couple, other local pilots and mechanics also volunteered their time and labor into not only successfully building the Seattle II, but getting it certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as flight-worthy.

“What I think of when I see the plane is where we were when we were building each piece and who was working on it,” Bob said to those in attendance.

Many of those who helped were in attendance on Saturday. Despite their efforts, retracing the route taken in 1924 by the Douglas World Cruisers is currently impossible due to international tensions.

In 1924, the planes’ route had them making 74 landings in 22 different countries, including parts of Russia, China and the Middle East.

“It’s bittersweet for all of us. We worked on it for so many years,” Bob said. “We wanted to fly it around the world and were ready, but the world’s not.”

Instead, the Seattle II will now be decommissioned and disassembled for transport to the Seattle Museum of Flight, where it will be reassembled and put on display.

Bob added there will be a dedication event at the Museum of Flight on Sept. 28, the date marking the completion of the first flight around the world in 1924 as the remaining Douglas World Cruisers returned to Seattle where their journey started.

And though the Seattle II never got the chance to retrace the Douglas World Cruisers’ flight, it did successfully fly on multiple occasions including making trips up to Alaska and Texas, as well as flying during the Boeing Company’s 100th anniversary in Seattle in 2016.

Diane was lucky enough to be on board the Seattle II as it took to the skies over Seattle in 2016.

“It was the most stable platform, just a smooth ride,” Diane said. “I felt like, ‘This feels right.’ Unless you fly and you know that seat-of-the-pants feeling, I never really can say I had it. Except in this plane, I really had it. There’s no vibration, even with the big engine right at the front.”

While the plane did have some modern modifications, such as the FAA-required strobe and wingtip lights, Bob and Diane stuck as closely as they could to the Douglas World Cruisers’ original design. The biplane was based on the Douglas Aircraft Company’s 1921 DT-2 torpedo bomber the company made for the U.S. Navy.

Originally, there were four Douglas World Cruisers, named the Seattle, Chicago, Boston and New Orleans, along with a prototype. 

“They were all christened with water from the prospective areas, because it was prohibition,” said Dempsey.

The Seattle was christened with water from Lake Washington, the Chicago with water from Lake Michigan and the Boston with water from Boston Harbor.

“And of course for the New Orleans, the muddy Mississippi,” Bob said.

Throughout the original journey, the Seattle was lost up in Alaska shortly after the journey began, and the Boston was lost later on near the Faroe Islands on a leg of the journey from England to Iceland. Though the two planes were lost, their pilots and crew all survived.

Following the loss of the Boston, the prototype was renamed and joined up with the remaining planes, the Chicago and New Orleans, near Nova Scotia as they prepared to complete the final legs of the flight around the world.

“They called it the Boston II, so we used a little historic precedence here with our plane, calling ours the Seattle II,” Bob said.

And while the name Seattle II is emblazoned near the nose of the aircraft near its mighty engine, some spectators noticed something else written beneath it.

“They want to know why I’ve got this Welsh written underneath ‘Seattle II.’ It’s actually not Welsh, it’s Lushootseed language,” he added.

During the Seattle II’s own christening, one of those who helped christen it was Ken Workman, the fifth-generation great-grandson of Chief Seattle.

“He gave his presentation in both Lushootseed and in English, and at one point he said, ‘thunder canoe,’ and I said later, ‘Ken, what’s this thunder canoe?’” Bob said. “And he said, ‘Well we didn’t have airplanes Bob, what are we gonna call it? It’s a noisy canoe.’ So he called it the ‘thunder canoe.’”

Once the decommissioning process on the Seattle II is complete, it will be displayed at the Museum of Flight, located at 9404 East Marginal Way S. in Seattle.

The history behind the first flight around the world

Following the end of World War I, the U.S. Army Air Service began drawing up plans and coordinating to stake its claim for first successful flight around the world, following several unsuccessful attempts by European aviators to fly around the world in 1923.

The engine was developed in 1917 by Jesse G. Vincent of Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of Hall-Scott Motor Car Company after the U.S. government asked for a standard four-, six-, 8- and 12-cylinder engine that could be quickly mass produced and equipped on a wide variety of combat aircraft.

Along with powering the Douglas World Cruisers around the world, the Liberty V-12 also helped power the Curtiss NC-4, which made the first successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, and the Fokker T-2, which made the first successful nonstop flight across the U.S. in 1923, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

When it came to the plane, the Army Air Service worked with the Douglas Aircraft Company to modify five Douglas DT-2 torpedo bomber aircraft, one as a prototype and four to make the flight around the world. They were originally built at the Douglas factory in Santa Monica, California.

Built in 1921, the DT-2 was also the U.S. Navy’s first torpedo bomber.

The modifications made to the DT-2s included increasing the plane’s fuel capacity, upgrading the cooling system, strengthening the fuselage, increasing the size of flight control surfaces and changing the cockpits locations.   

They could also be equipped to land with both wheels and pontoons, enabling them to land and take off from the water.

Those original Douglas World Cruisers were named the Seattle, Chicago, Boston and New Orleans, along with the prototype which would end up becoming a spare.

With the Douglas World Cruisers delivered and preparations for the flight around the world completed, the Seattle, Boston, Chicago and New Orleans began their historic flight on April 6, 1924, departing from Seattle.

Each aircraft had one pilot and one mechanic as the four planes began making their way up the Pacific Coast toward Alaska. The original Seattle had engine trouble early on requiring repairs, and ended up crashing during a leg of the flight from Chignik, Alaska, to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on April 30, 1924.

Both crew members survived the crash and were found alive 11 days later.

Following the loss of the Seattle, the Boston, Chicago and New Orleans carried on, eventually making their way eventually to Japan.

The historic flight continued taking the Douglas World Cruisers through China, down to Myanmar, then through India and the Middle East before eventually making their way to Europe.

However, after departing from the northern tip of England on a leg of the trip taking them to Iceland, bad weather forced the three remaining planes to split up, and the Boston was forced to make an emergency landing in the ocean near the Faroe Islands.

While the crew members were safe and the plane was repairable, the Boston sank while being towed to the Faroe Islands for repairs on Aug. 4, 1924.

Following the loss of the Boston, the prototype was utilized as a spare and dubbed the Boston II. It was flown to join the Chicago and New Orleans in Nova Scotia, Canada, to complete the last legs of their flight around the world.

After originally departing from Sand Point on April 6, the Chicago, New Orleans and Boston II returned and landed in Seattle on Sept. 28, 1924 — 175 days after they had taken off.

Over those 175 days, the aviators spent 354 hours and 47 minutes flying in the air and traveled a distance of 25,180 miles, making a total of 74 landings in 22 different countries along the way.

To learn more about the historic flight of the Douglas World Cruisers along with Bob’s reproduction Seattle II, visit https://www.seattleworldcruiser.org/