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This Date In Central Minnesota History – March 2nd, 1949

Photos courtesy of the Stearns History Museum: James Gallagher along with his wife Mary and their daughter Katherine in the Melrose parade in his honor

MELROSE — March 2nd, 1949 – Melrose native James Gallagher became the 1st pilot to fly nonstop around the earth.

James Gallagher was born in Melrose, Minnesota in 1921. He was the second youngest in a family of six children born to Cornelius “Neil” and Rose Gallagher. After graduating from high school in 1939, he left Melrose to go to business school and then worked in Washington, DC. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. For the majority of WWII, he was stationed in India where he flew 35 missions. Towards the end of the war, he served as a B-29 copilot in missions in Japan, Singapore, and Manchuria.

Gallagher Day Committee in Melrose

After the war, Capt Gallagher was stationed first at Merced, California, and then transferred to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. It was here that Gallagher was selected to command the non-stop flight around the world in February of 1949.

Together with a crew of 13, Capt James Gallagher began this historic flight on February 26, 1949 at 11:21 am, from Carswell Air Force base in Fort Worth, TX. The plane that was chosen for this trek was a medium B-50 bomber named Lucky Lady II, and was powered with four Pratt and Whitney 37,500 horsepower engines. The plane was named after the B-29 bomber Lucky Lady, in which the flight’s second pilot, Lt. Arthur Neal, had flown around the world in a 15 day trip. The B-50 was the newest in aircraft bombers. It had a top speed of about 400 mph, a cruising speed around 300, and could climb to 40,000 ft.

The Welcome Home Gallagher parade in Melrose

The flight required four in-flight fuelings before completing the 23,452-mile journey. The plane landed safely on March 2, 1949 at 9:21 am, 94 hours and one minute after taking off.

To celebrate this historic flight, the city of Melrose formed a Gallagher Day Committee to plan the festivities. About 5,000 excited citizens came out to welcome their new hometown hero on May 20, 1949.

Thanks to Sarah Warmka and the Stearns History Museum for their help with our series, “This Date In Central Minnesota History”.

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