Presidential Roosevelts…Firsts in Flight

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 14, 1943:

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first US President to fly in an aircraft for official business.

FDR was to meet Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco to discuss strategy in WWII. For previous meetings the President and Prime Minister had travelled by warship, but the US military was concerned about heightened U-Boat activity in the Atlantic.

As a result President Roosevelt agreed to make the trip by plane, specifically a Boeing 314 four engine flying boat named the Dixie Clipper. The flight flew from Florida to South America and crossed to North Africa. After the meeting, FDR celebrated his 61st birthday on the return flight. He was already in poor health and the 1700 mile trip took its toll.

Thirty-three years earlier, FDR’s cousin Theodore Roosevelt had become the first president to fly in an aircraft. After having left office, TR was on a speaking tour when he encountered pilot Arch Hoxley at Kinloch Field in St. Louis, Missouri.

The always adventurous TR could not resist the offer to go for a jaunt in the Wright built airplane…little more than a powered kite, and much less luxurious than the Clipper his cousin would use. In fact, TR’s pilot, Hoxley, would die in a plane crash the following December.

I have to wonder if this is historic coincidence or much more. FDR grew up in TR’s very large shadow, and greatly admired him. FDR followed TR’s path as much as he could…Under Secretary of the Navy, the New York legislature and New York governor. While TR was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat, FDR traded on TR’s legend…and TR supported his prodigy. TR wanted to break tradition and serve a third term, which did not happen. FDR was into his fourth term when he died.

So of course one has to wonder if from competitiveness or emulation, was the opportunity to follow up on a Presidentially pioneering flight just too much too pass up?

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