On May 8, 1919, three navy planes left New York from Rockaway Air Station. The aircraft stopped at Chatham Naval Air Station in Massachusetts and then on to Halifax Nova Scotia. They then flew to Trepssesy New Foundland. On May 16, the three planes departed on the longest stretch of the flight to the Azores. Along the way, 22 naval ships acted as guides for the aircraft. The aircraft arrived in the town of Horta on Faial Island in the Azores. After taking off from the Azores, the planes encountered bad weather and were forced to land in the open sea. Two of the three aircraft was damaged. The last plane NC-4 took off on May 20 but encountered mechanical problems and were forced to land. It took off again on May 27 and arrived in Lisbon after a flight of nine hours and 43 minutes. It took ten days and 22 hours, but the first transatlantic flight had been completed.
The Evolution Of Transatlantic Flight
Crossing the Atlantic has always been a magical experience, since the dawn of the age of exploration till today, made much easier with a quick hop across the pond in an aircraft. But what we consider today to be simple was not always easy, with the story to get to this point quite fascinating.
You can watch a video on the topic here:
Believe it or not, the first idea of crossing the Atlantic by air was in 1859 and was to be done by ballon! Many attempts were made, and one might have been successful if it was not for the start of the American Civil War.
But it would not be for another 60 years until the end of World War I when people considered using biplanes instead.
First attempts (the 1910s)
Early aircraft engines did not have the reliability needed for the crossing, nor the power to lift the required fuel. But this didn’t stop the idea from capturing the public imagination. In fact, in 1913, London newspaper the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 (£451,400 in 2019) for the first successful flight across the pond.
“The aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an airplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours with one aircraft.” – The Daily Mail in 1913
In May of 1919, the Curtiss seaplane NC-4 made the journey from the United States to New Foundland then to the Portuguese Azores before landing in Portugal and the United Kingdom. It took 23 days and six stops.
A month later, on the 14th June, the British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in a Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber. They replaced the bomb racks with fuel tanks which carried 3,900 liters of fuel.
The flight took 16 hours and landed just outside of Galway in Ireland.
Commercial travel (the 1920s)
Obviously flying a World War I bomber was neither practical nor possible for passenger aircraft, and thus one company set out to provide an actual commercial passage across the sea.
And it might surprise you to know that balloons were used once again. From October 1928, vast rigid airships crossed the Atlantic from Germany to New York. However, in 1937 this fantasy with floating cruise ships ended with the Hindenburg and the R101 disasters.
The first planes, however, focused on South Atlantic travel, delivering mail from the Gambia in Africa to Brazil in South America, where the distance was the shortest.
First transatlantic airlines (the 1930s)
Imperial Airways was the first airline to investigate using the Short Empire sea plan to cross over from Ireland to the Americas in 1937. Not to be left out on this venture, Pan American flew the opposite way with a Sikorsky S-42. Both airlines would begin regular seaplane routes soon after.
This initial journey took 20 hrs, 21 min at an average ground speed of 144 miles per hour (232 km/h). The Short Empire seaplane didn’t actually have enough power to lift itself off the ground with the fuel needed for the journey, so it was actually carried by a bigger aircraft to the right height and then released.
On the American side, Pan Am as it was now called, operated the Boeing 314. And boy was this fancy. It featured all first-class seats, chefs from famous hotels, waiters in white uniforms, dressing rooms for both men and women and bunks for sleeping during the slow 210 miles per hour (303 km/h) trip.
The first land-based aircraft was by the specially designed Lufthansa Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor from Berlin to New York.
The war (the 1940s)
Just when civilian air travel was about to take off (pun not intended), World War II began. Because of the perils of moving precious cargo across the sea (in the form of Nazi U-Boats), America and the allies decided it would be better to fly.
Better technology led to better aircraft that could easily make the journey in under 20 hours, in the form of bigger piston engines and longer runways allowing an aircraft to carry more fuel.
After World War II long runways were available, and North American and European carriers such as Pan Am, TWA, Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), BOAC, and Air France acquired larger piston airliners that could cross the North Atlantic with stops (usually in Gander, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland).
In January 1946 Pan Am’s DC-4 was scheduled New York (La Guardia) to London (Hurn) in 17 hours 40 minutes, five days a week. In June 1946, Lockheed L-049 Constellations had brought the eastward time to Heathrow down to 15 hr 15 min.
Following the end of that era was also the rise of jet aircraft. In October 1958, BOAC started transatlantic flights between London Heathrow and New York with a Comet 4, and Pan Am followed on 26 October with a Boeing 707 service between New York and Paris.
From there, airlines introduced more routes with better jet aircraft, decreasing the time and the flexibility of air travel. This technology would gradually improve without a new major development in many years.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Supersonic flights on the Concorde ran from 1976 to 2003, from London (by British Airways) and Paris (by Air France) to New York and Washington, in around three hours. It would eventually wind up but at the end of its run, it was operating profitably.
A British Airways spokesman in 2003 said: “Concorde will not fly commercially again. Airbus says it will not support the continued use of the planes because the maintenance would be too expensive and it is just not viable.”
When air travel was deregulated, the market exploded with many airlines now making the journey across the Atlantic between Europe and the Americas. In 2015, there were 44 million seats on offer from 67 European airports with no sign of slowing down.
What do you think? Have we missed any important events? Let us know in the comments.
The U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4: First Across the Atlantic
The U.S. Navy Curtiss NC-4 arrives at Ponto Delgado, the harbor of Lisbon, Portugal.
In the spring of 1919, three Navy-Curtiss flying boats set out to beat the competition and be the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
As the three large flying boats turned into the wind, their wakes formed graceful arcs. Approximately 1,200 people—U.S. Navy personnel, reporters and families of the crews—watched from the shore at the Rockaway Beach Naval Air Station as the aircraft climbed. Also on hand were 60 Curtiss workers, led by superintendent Peter Jensen, who had worked feverishly to put the final touches on the flying boats they had built. The three planes turned eastward and soon disappeared into the haze. At 10 a.m. on May 8, 1919, John H. Towers sent word that the planes had left Long Island on the first attempt to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. At noon Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the following message: ‘Commander John H. Towers, U.S.N., USS NC-4. Delighted with successful start good luck all the way — Roosevelt.’
The idea of a transatlantic flight by flying boat was proposed as early as 1914 and backed by philanthropist Rodman Wanamaker, who had asked Towers and Lieutenant J.C. Porte of the Royal Navy to pilot an aircraft designed by Glenn Curtiss. In the spring of 1914, Curtiss built a flying boat with a 72-foot wingspan, mounting three engines capable of a total of 480 hp. Christened America, the new plane had capacity for ample fuel, food and two pilots. However, when World War I broke out, the plan was canceled and America was sold to the British for maritime patrol service.
When the United States entered the war in April 1917, the U.S. Navy also needed flying boats to patrol against German U-boats. Curtiss had supplied the British and Russians with flying boats throughout the war and was among the premier designers and manufacturers of the type. In 1917 the Navy and Curtiss decided to work together to produce a new large aircraft to be known as the Navy-Curtiss (NC) flying boat. Chief naval constructor Admiral D. W. Taylor wrote, ‘The ideal solution would be big flying boats or the equivalent, that would be able to fly the Atlantic to avoid the difficulties of delivery, etc.’ The new flying boats—affectionately known as ‘Nancies’—had a wingspan of 126 feet (larger than that of a Boeing 727) and an overall length of 69 feet. They originally had three tractor Liberty engines that produced 1,200 hp. One engine was centrally installed above the fuselage, and the other two were supported on each side, between the upper and lower wings. Fully loaded, NC-1 weighed 24,000 pounds. One of its weight-saving innovations was to mount the tail on outriggers supported from a short, rugged hull. Under the supervision of Commander H.C. Richardson, the shape of the hull was refined using model testing to determine the best configuration for takeoff and taxiing.
Work on the first aircraft began at the Curtiss Engineering Corporation in Garden City, Long Island, during January 1918. NC-1 made her maiden flight on October 4, 1918, at Rockaway, with Richardson and Lieutenant David H. McCulloch as pilots, and was still undergoing flight testing when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.
The NC flying boat had originally been designed for transatlantic flight, and that goal was revived during the winter of 1918-1919, when naval officials made plans to fly to Europe in May 1919. It was decided that since the crews would be sent out by government orders, rather than on their own initiative, they must have the best available equipment and be furnished with all possible support. The route chosen had a 1,200-nautical-mile hop to the Azores as its longest leg rather than the 1,900-nautical-mile trip to Ireland across the treacherous North Atlantic. Three aircraft would attempt the trip, NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4. As NC-1 had been damaged during a March storm, one wing of the experimental NC-2 was used to refit it. To increase the margin of safety, a fourth pusher-type engine was added behind the original central engine.
NC-4 undergoes maintenance at its mooring at Rockaway Naval Air Station on Long Island, N.Y., where all three Nancies started out on their Atlantic crossing. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Next, the Navy selected crews to man the three planes, appointing Towers as commanding officer. Crews came from the Regular Navy, the Naval Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard. Towers chose NC-3 as his flagship, and Richardson was picked as chief pilot. Patrick N.L. Bellinger was chosen as commander for NC-1 and Albert C. Read for NC-4. Marc Mitscher, originally picked to command the now scrubbed NC-2, became NC-1‘s pilot. In addition, the airplanes carried radio operators, flight engineers and mechanics.
During WWI, Richard E. Byrd had experimented with a number of scientific instruments, ranging from drift indicators to bubble sextants, that were useful in navigating over water, without visual landmarks. Although Byrd lobbied hard to join the 1919 flight, instead the Navy assigned him to plan the navigation for the flying boats only as far as Trepassey Bay.
The route, which started at Rockaway Naval Air Station and ended in Plymouth, England, would consist of six legs. The first leg was 540 nautical miles to Halifax. The second was 460 miles to Trepassey Bay, near St. Johns, Newfoundland. The third and longest leg of the Atlantic crossing would take the flying boats from Trepassey Bay to Horta in the Azores, a distance of 1,200 nautical miles. After a short hop of 150 miles to Ponta Delgada, also in the Azores, the crossing concluded with an 800-nautical-mile flight to Lisbon, Portugal. Finally, a 755-mile flight to Plymouth would end the journey.
Twenty-one ships were stationed along the flight path from Trepassey Bay to the Azores to aid in navigation and rescue if needed. A picket line of 14 ships was assigned from the Azores to Lisbon, and 10 ships from Lisbon to Plymouth. That sort of methodical planning and heavy investment — typical of the moon landings 50 years later — demonstrated the importance that the Navy placed on it. National prestige was at stake. In 1919, the main competition to be first across the Atlantic was the British. Before the Americans left Long Island, Australian test pilot Harry Hawker and his Scottish navigator Kenneth F. Mackenzie-Grieve, with their Sopwith Atlantic biplane, and F.P. Raynham and C.W.F. Morgan, with their Martinsyde Raymor, were already in Newfoundland. British Admiral Mark Kerr, with his Handley Page V/1500, and John Alcock and Arthur W. Brown, with their Vickers Vimy, were eager to jump into the fray. The British teams would attempt a flight from Newfoundland to the British Isles for a prize of 10,000 pounds sterling offered by the publisher of the Daily Mail, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, for the first successful transatlantic flight.
On May 3, 1919, just two days after NC-4 made her first flight, the NC Seaplane Division was formally commissioned. NC-1, now equipped with four engines, would make her first flight in that configuration on the next day.
The operations were hindered by a series of accidents. On May 5 during fueling operations a fire broke out in the NC hangar, and NC-1‘s starboard wing was destroyed. But using the wing from the already cannibalized NC-2, it was soon repaired. Flares accidentally set off started another fire on May 6. After misjudging the distance to the aft propeller, Chief Machinist’s Mate E.H. Howard lost his hand on May 7.
Finally, on May 8, the Nancies left Rockaway for Newfoundland. NC-3 and NC-1 had relatively uneventful flights to Halifax, making the 540-nautical-mile trip in about nine hours. Along the way, however, cracks developed in the planes’ new, highly efficient Olmstead propellers. The Olmsteads were subsequently replaced with standard Navy propellers. NC-4, which was going through her shakedown flights on the way to Canada, was not so lucky. She lost both center engines and was forced to set down in the open sea near Cape Cod. The crew then taxied for five hours until the flying boat reached the naval air station at Chatham, Mass. Although NC-4 was repaired and ready to resume the flight by May 10, unfavorable weather delayed departure until May 14. NC-4 finally arrived in Halifax at 1:07 p.m. that day.
There was concern among NC-4‘s crewmen that if Towers received a favorable weather forecast, he would feel obliged to go for the Azores without them. Because of Howard’s accident and the plane’s failure to make Halifax, newspapers were calling NC-4 a ‘Lame Duck’ and circulating rumors that she would be withdrawn from the flight.
NC-1 and NC-3 had left Halifax for Trepassey Bay on May 10, but after their arrival weather conditions held up the flight’s continuance. Towers received a favorable weather report on the 15th and decided to go — without NC-4. Read actually witnessed them trying to take off as he arrived. But NC-3 and NC-1 were overloaded with fuel and could not get off the water. The weather forecast for the 16th was even better, and nobody had wanted to leave NC-4 behind. NC-4 was quickly overhauled, with mechanics installing one new engine and three propellers. On the evening of May 16, Towers gave the word to go. By then, the flying boats had traveled approximately 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 statute miles) from Long Island, but before them lay the featureless ocean. To guide their way they had only their primitive navigational instruments and, at night, a string of lights provided by the picket line of destroyers.
The only one of the Nancies to reach Lisbon—ironically, “Lame Duck” NC-4, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read—was photographed in Lisbon Harbor alongside the seatender Shawmut. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
On Friday evening, May 16, the three NC flying boats roared in turn down Trepassey Harbor and flew off into the gathering darkness over the Atlantic. That night was without incident as the fliers passed over the destroyers on their ocean stations with reassuring regularity. Formation flying was difficult, since each airplane had its own flying characteristics and cruising speed: NC-4 was the fastest, NC-1 the slowest. After NC-3‘s lighting circuits failed during the night, the three planes were forced to break out of formation to avoid the risk of collision.
More troubles came with the onset of fog at dawn. In NC-3, Towers spotted a ship on the foggy horizon that he took to be one of the station destroyers and altered his course accordingly. Instead it was the cruiser Marblehead returning from Europe, and the mistake took NC-3 far off course. With fuel running low, Towers determined by dead reckoning that they were somewhere close to the Azores. He decided to put down long enough to obtain a navigation fix. The seas were running high, however, and the rough landing collapsed the struts supporting the centerline engines. In this condition NC-3 could go no farther — except as a surface craft.
Aboard NC-1, Bellinger was having similar difficulty. He landed without incident, but once down could not take off again through the 12-foot-high waves. Meanwhile Read, in NC-4, had also ‘run out of ships’ and was virtually lost in a fog that at one point was so thick the crew could not see from one end of the plane to the other. Losing sight of the horizon, the pilot became totally disoriented. He almost put the big plane into a spin, but recovered in time. However, Ensign Herbert Rodd, the radio officer, was successful in picking up radio bearings and weather information from the destroyers hidden below by fog and clouds.
After more than 15 hours in the air, Read’s dead reckoning and Rodd’s radio reports indicated that NC-4 was very near the Azores. Suddenly, through a small break in the fog, they sighted Flores, one of the western islands of the Azores. With Flores as a checkpoint, Read swung NC-4 eastward toward the islands of Fayal and Sao Miguel, then settled for immediate safety on Fayal. NC-4 landed in Horta’s harbor a bit before noon. Within minutes of Read’s arrival, a great bank of fog had blotted out the port completely.
Upon boarding the cruiser Columbia, which was serving as the base ship for the NCs at Horta, Read and his men were quick to inquire about NC-3 and NC-1. They learned that NC-1, trapped and punished by the great waves, had been lucky to stay afloat. Fortunately, the Greek freighter Ionia rescued Bellinger and his crew, but NC-1 finally sank three days later.
The fate of NC-3 remained a mystery for 48 hours. Before leaving Trepassey, Towers, much to his dismay, had to tell Lieutenant L.C. Rhodes that he would need to stay behind in order to reduce weight for takeoff. Towers also jettisoned tools, a chair, extra drinking water and the emergency radio transmitter. Thus, NC-3 could receive radio calls but not send them. Pure seamanship had to take over. Towers figured that within two or three days he would drift close to Sao Miguel. On Monday afternoon, May 19, inhabitants of Ponta Delgada spotted the battered NC-3. When the destroyer Harding raced out to help, John Towers stood up and shouted, ‘Stand off! We’re going in under our own power.’ He and his crew had managed to sail their crippled plane 205 miles backward through violent seas, using the tail assembly as a sail.
With NC-4‘s arrival in the Azores, it was the British who panicked. Although NC-4 was not involved in the race for prize money, British honor was at stake. Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve took off from Newfoundland and headed for Ireland on May 18. Less than halfway across they had consumed half of their gasoline. At dawn, with their radiator steaming, they had to ditch in the stormy North Atlantic.
Raynham and Morgan tried to take off about an hour after Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve, but their Martinsyde could not lift off from the soggy field. They crashed in the attempt, and Morgan suffered permanent injuries.
For nearly three days NC-4 rode her moorings at Horta, kept there by high seas, rain and fog. On the 20th the weather cleared enough to permit takeoff, and in less than two hours NC-4 reached Ponta Delgada. Towers, who had arrived by sailing the last 205 miles, was already there to greet him. Despite Towers’ heroic achievement, NC-4‘s Commander Read was the popular hero. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels gave orders for Towers to proceed onward by ship — he was forbidden to fly on NC-4 even as a passenger. It was a bitter pill for the division commander to swallow. Daniels, a former newsman, apparently thought it a better story that Read in his ‘Lame Duck’ had conquered the mighty Atlantic. NC-4 was scheduled to take off for Lisbon the next day, but weather and engine trouble delayed the departure for a week. While the crew waited, they learned that Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve had been picked up by a Danish tramp steamer and had arrived safely in Scotland.
NC-4‘s crew was up before dawn on Tuesday, May 27. Lieutenant James L. Breese and Chief Machinist’s Mate Eugene S. Rhoads diligently pampered the plane’s engines. Herbert Rodd bestowed equal care on his indispensable radio set. (Much of the credit for the success of the entire NC-4 mission could be attributed to Rodd’s expert use of his radio and Read’s confidence in using his results.) At Read’s command, Lieutenant Elmer Stone advanced the throttles and sent the big flying boat charging down the harbor, then lifted off toward Lisbon.
Another chain of destroyers extended between the Azores and Lisbon. As NC-4 overflew the vessels, each ship radioed her passage to the base ship Melville at Ponta Delgada and the cruiser Rochester in Lisbon, which in turn reported to the Navy Department in Washington. Finally, word came from the destroyer McDougal, the last ship in the picket line, that NC-4 was within minutes of completing her historic flight.
In NC-4, the crew peered eastward, where the horizon was fading in the twilight of May 27. Then from the center of that darkening line there flashed a spark of light — Cabo da Roca lighthouse. They had sighted the westernmost point in Europe. Minutes later, NC-4 roared over the rocky coastline and turned south toward the Tagus estuary and Lisbon. According to Read, that moment was ‘perhaps the biggest thrill of the whole trip.’ Each man on board realized that no matter what happened — even if they crashed on landing — the first transatlantic flight in history was an accomplished fact.
Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels congratulates (from left) NC-1’s commander Patrick N.L. Bellinger, NC-4’s Read and flight commander John H. Towers, while Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt looks on. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
After two days in Lisbon, where all three NC crews were honored by the Portuguese government, the NC-4 crew was ready to continue to Plymouth. NC-4 departed Lisbon on the morning of May 29, but a few hours later, near the Monedego River, she was forced down by engine trouble. The repairs took quite a while, and Read refused to risk landing in darkness at Plymouth. So NC-4 flew to Ferrol, Spain, for the night. The next day NC-4 completed the final leg of her flight, landing in Plymouth Harbor early in the afternoon of May 31, escorted by three flying boats of the Royal Air Force. She received a tumultuous reception from an English crowd.
During the 24-day duration of the nearly 4,000-mile flight, news of the flying boats’ progress was featured on the front page of most American newspapers. But other remarkable flights quickly followed. Alcock and Brown made the first nonstop Atlantic flight from St. Johns and crashed into a bog in Clifden, Ireland, in June 1919. Fearing that Admiral Kerr would overtake them, they put down as soon as possible to ensure that they would win the Daily Mail‘s cash prize. Eight years later, Charles Lindbergh completed his solo nonstop flight from Long Island to Paris. He was followed a month later by Clarence Chamberlin and then Richard E. Byrd.
By the time NC-4‘s crewmen arrived back in New York, in the days prior to ticker-tape parades, the only public acclaim they received was a private dinner thrown by Glenn Curtiss. The 1919 flight had highlighted the difficulties of flying the Atlantic. It would be 20 years before the lessons learned through the NCs’ flights were translated into regularly scheduled airline flights to Europe. On May 21, 1939, the Pan American Airways flying boat Yankee Clipper took off from Long Island and flew to Lisbon via the Azores. Six days later the airliner arrived back at Port Washington, exactly 20 years to the day after NC-4 had arrived in Lisbon.
Today if you take off from Long Island’s Kennedy Airport on your way to Europe, you may fly over Jacob Riis Park, former site of the Rockaway Naval Air Station. Eighty-three years ago three brave crews left that spot. By now, millions have flown across the Atlantic, but the honor of being first belongs to Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read, his crew of five and the U.S. Navy’s NC-4.
This article was written by Edward Magnani and originally published in the November 2002 issue of Aviation History.
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First Transatlantic FlightMarshall Islands #666a pictures the NC-4 that completed this journey. Click image to order.
On May 16, 1919, Albert Cushing Read departed Newfoundland, beginning the first transatlantic flight.
As early as 1910, aviators hoped to be the first to fly across the Atlantic. Then in 1913, British newspaper publisher Lord Northcliffe issued a challenge – 10,000 pounds to the first person to fly across the Atlantic in 72 hours. Around the world, aviators scrambled to be the first. In the US, Glenn Curtiss was among the hopefuls.
He worked with Navy officer John Towers to build a flying boat called America. Both men hoped to take part in the flight, but Curtiss’ wife didn’t want him to risk his life and Towers was put on alert in case of trouble with Mexico. So they assembled a crew and planned the flight for August 15, 1914. However, Germany declared war on France and England at the beginning of the month. The America was sold to England as a prototype for patrol seaplanes and the contest was postponed.
By 1917, submarine warfare was plaguing the US as it tried to send planes to Europe. At the time, they would send them on ships, but German U-boats kept attacking them. So the US Navy wanted to develop flying boats that could cross the Atlantic on their own. They called on Glenn Curtiss, who submitted plans within three days. They immediately set to work on the Navy-Curtiss Number One (NC-1). By the fall of 1918, the plane had been tested and could carry a record 51 men. But then the war ended on November 11, and the plane was no longer needed for military use.
US #C100 was issued in Curtiss’ hometown of Hammondsport, NY. Click image to order.
The transatlantic flight competition was renewed and the Navy committed to proceeding, though they decided that they would not accept the prize money if successful. In all, three planes were built and allocated for the trip – NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4.
US #930 – As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR was an ardent supporter of the flights and even visited Rockaway to fly in one of the planes. Click image to order.
The journey began at 10:00 a.m. on May 8, with the planes departing Naval Air Station Rockaway in New York City. From there, they flew to Chatham, Massachusetts. One of the planes, NC-4, piloted by Albert Read, had an oil leak. The plane could still fly but at a slower speed. Later on, a connecting rod failed and the plane only had two functional engines. Read was forced to land at sea. Eighty miles from Chatham, he taxied the boat to its destination, arriving there at 7:00 a.m. on May 9.
US #2388 – Richard Byrd flew aboard the NC-3 to Newfoundland. Click image to order.
At Chatham, the NC-4 was repaired, but take off was delayed a few days due to weather. They left Chatham on May 14, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia that afternoon. The next morning they flew to Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland. At 6 p.m. on May 16, 1918, the three planes departed Trepassey Bay to begin their journey across the Atlantic to the Azores. As they made their way, a series of destroyers would steam along below them, sending out black smoke to mark their route during the day. At night, they would point their searchlights up and fire shells occasionally to show their positions.
Marshall Islands #666 – The top left stamp pictures the NC-4. Click image to order.
The First Flight Across the Atlantic
Written by Commander Ted Wilbur
(Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C., 1969)
In 1917, fully engaged in “the war to end all wars,” the United States was concerned about antisubmarine warfare. Transport of suitable bomber planes from America to Europe was a risky business. Ironically, ships carrying aircraft capable of combating U-boats were being sunk by submarines. One officer regarded the transaction as a “masterpiece of insanity.” Besides, although production of patrol seaplanes was on the upswing, deck space and shipping holds were at a premium human cargo and essential equipment had priority. As a solution, the Navy decided to build its flying boats large enough to cross the Atlantic under their own power. Operating from European bases, they would then obviously have sufficient range to reach the center of German submarine activity. However, at this time the longest nonstop flight accomplished was about 1,350 miles, flown under ideal conditions and in the vicinity of a landing field. (In 1914, the German aviator Boehm had remained aloft 24 hours on what was actually an endurance flight.) The suggested route across the Atlantic was over 1,900 miles, over an area not well known for ideal flying weather: Newfoundland to Ireland.
The idea, even in 1917, really wasn’t far fetched. Nor was it new. The challenge had existed for years and, as early as 1910, attempts were made to cross the Atlantic by air. First, there were balloons, nonrigid airships, successful only in provoking interest. Then, prompted by foresight (and good business sense), England’s Lord Northcliffe threw down his gauntlet. With a vast string of publications, Northcliffe was the British William Randolph Hearst Possessing a taste for aeronautical events and a keen understanding of the portents of the aeroplane, the perceptive lord pronounced a prize of 10,000 pounds for the first successful trans-Atlantic flight. He published his decree and the conditions for the $50,000 competition in his London Daily Mail on April 1, 1913. The award would go to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic by plane, either way, between the North American continent and any point in Great Britain or Ireland, within 72 consecutive hours. The aeronaut was required to complete the trip in the same craft in which he started. Intermediate stoppages would be permitted only upon water and, if the pilot had to go aboard ship during repairs, he would resume his flight from approximately the same point he went on board.
Following the Daily Mail’s sensational announcement, French and Italian aviators were quick to enter the lists while, in America, Rodman Wanamaker, heir to the Philadelphia mercantile fortune, revealed a contract with Glenn Curtiss to build a large flying boat. Glenn Hammond Curtiss, who had been the first man to successfully fly an airplane from water, had harbored a consuming desire to fly the Atlantic before anyone else. To assist him in his long-awaited project, the Navy sent an advisor to the Curtiss plant at Hammondsport, N.Y. The young officer, Lt. John H. Towers, Naval Aviator #3, had been taught to fly by Curtiss. They were close friends. The craft was to be named America and, for a while, it was presumed the pilots would be Curtiss and Towers. However, under pressure from his wife, Curtiss had greatly restricted his personal flying activities. He suggested that a Navy man be placed in charge and that Towers should be plane commander. The Navy Department flatly refused. Trouble on the Mexican border might require the use of aeroplanes. Towers was put on recall alert. He would be permitted to continue in an advisory capacity, but trans-Atlantic flight was out of the question.
Work on Curtiss’ dream progressed. The $500 entry fee was posted. Towers’ place was taken by one of the finest pilots in England, John Cyril Porte, lately of the Royal Navy. Porte had been invalided out of submarine service when he contracted tuberculosis. On expectation of a short life, he had taken up flying and did very well at it. By late July 1914, Towers had gone off to Tampico, the America had completed her trials, and Cyril Porte was ready to go. August 15th would be the date. On August 3, Germany declared war on France, the next day on Great Britain. World War I was on: the America was sold to England as a prototype for 50 patrol seaplanes Cyril Porte devoted his attention to the Royal Naval Air Service the transatlantic flight was off the London Daily Mail’s prize was postponed.
On September of 1917, the chief of the Navy’s Construction Corps, Admiral David W. Taylor, called in his key men, Commanders G. C. Westervelt, Holden C. Richardson and Jerome C. Hunsaker. These Naval Constructors were ordered, in effect, to create what the combined efforts of England, France and Italy had been unable to achieve in three years of war: long-range flying boats capable of carrying adequate loads of bombs and depth charges as well as defensive armament sufficient to counteract the operations of enemy submarines. After the meeting, Glenn Curtiss was summoned. Within three days of his Washington meeting, Curtiss and his engineers submitted general plans based on two different proposals: one was a three-motored machine, the other a behemoth with five engines. Both were similar in appearance, but they opposed conventional flying boats of the period in that the hulls were much shorter, vaguely resembling a Dutch wooden shoe. The tail assembly, for which there were several alternates, was to be supported by hollow wooden booms rooted in the wings and hull. This tail, twice the size of an ordinary single-seat fighter aeroplane, would be braced by steel cables and was situated high enough to remain clear of breaking seas during surface operations. It also permitted machine gun fire directly aft from the stern compartment without the usual danger of blasting the controls to pieces.
This interesting concept had been embodied in a previous Curtiss design for a “flying lifeboat.” The keys to success lay in two factors: a seaworthy hull which had good “planing” characteristics and reliable engines which provided sufficient power for their weight. The entire machine, of course, had to be relatively light, yet strong enough to withstand the severe treatment frequently encountered at sea. It was not practical to build larger and larger airplanes and keep adding more engines to keep the whole affair in the sky unless the load-carrying potential also increased. This “useful load” included crew, fuel, equipment, accessories and armaments things not part of the basic aeroplane. Thus, the plan for the smaller, three-engined aeroboat was decided upon, and the light Liberty engine solved the power problem.
In view of the immediacy of the problem, Chief Constructor Taylor knew he had to cut corners. Under normal circumstances, development of a flying war machine, the engines, hull, wings, fittings and armaments, would require study and sanction by respective divisions within the Navy, a time-consuming process. Admiral Taylor centralized the project. A design contract was let with the Curtiss Company, and Commanders Westervelt and Richardson were sent to the Buffalo plant. Without red tape, the Navy engineers would work closely with the Curtiss people at full speed. One of the first problems readily resolved was the plane’s name. At first, Westervelt applied the initials of his boss: DWT. A little reflection brought realization that Taylor might take a dim view of that, so Westervelt changed it to “Navy-Curtiss Number One,” or simply, “NC-l.” . . .
In just one year from the time they started, the Navy-Curtiss team had met with success: the Nancy flew. Richardson’s fears were allayed he’d had a mild case of buck fever. His design was vindicated, more than he had hoped for. Soon the NC-1 would establish a record by carrying 51 men aloft, including the first deliberate stowaway in aviation history. But on the 11th of November, World War I ended, and with it the need for a long-range, antisubmarine flying boat to do battle with the Hun. Not long afterward, the $50,000 London Daily Mail enticement was revived.
Within the Navy, there had been growing interest in the trans-Atlantic flight. On the 9th of July 1918, Lt. Richard E. Byrd, a Naval Aviator engaged in the study of crashes at Pensacola, had written to Washington, “It is requested that I be detailed to make a trans-Atlantic flight in an NC-1 type of flying boat when this boat is completed.” His request had been forwarded, with approving endorsement, by Byrd’s commanding officer. Two weeks later he was in Washington where, with mixed emotions, he accepted orders sending him to Nova Scotia as Commander of U.S. Naval Air Forces in Canada. His disappointment at not being assigned to the trans-Atlantic flight was tempered by instructions to seek out, on the coast of Newfoundland, a rest and refueling station suitable for the handling and maintenance of large seaplanes! With the help of a close friend, Ltjg. Walter Hinton, Byrd spent every spare minute on navigational problems associated with a flight across the Atlantic. He thought there might yet be a chance to join the team. But someone else was ahead of him.
John Henry Towers was the third officer to be designated a Naval Aviator. Going into flying at a time when air- planes were regarded as toys dangerous to both life and a Navy career, Towers was a pioneer. As a passenger in 1913, while ticking around at 1,500 feet in a primitive contraption of bamboo, cloth and wire, he encountered a violent gust which threw the machine out of control and hurled its pilot to his death. As the frail little seaplane plummeted earthward, Towers was caught in the wires. He clutched the wooden frame, hanging on for dear life. Somehow, just before striking the waters of the bay, the wings levelled, and the fledgling aviator found himself emerging from the wreck, wet but unhurt. His suggestion that safety belts be used in aeroplanes was noted and approved. Towers’ career covered the early period of aviation development in the Navy. As a close associate of Glenn Curtiss, he had been a natural choice for participation in the abortive 1914 plans for the trans-Atlantic flight of the America. In 1916, after diplomatic duty in London, Towers was ordered to Washington where he had little time to think about flying the Atlantic, that is, until the design for the NC boat came to his attention. At first, he didn’t care for its unconventional appearance. The short hull looked a little queer and he disliked it. But the fire was rekindled Commander Towers requested assignment to the project as officer-in-charge. . . .
All told, there had been nine British entries posted for the Daily Mail’s prize, but the two already at St. John’s seemed a good bet. Harry Hawker and Royal Navy LCdr. Mackenzie Grieve had a Sopwith Captains Raynham and Morgan a Martinsyde. Both aircraft were single-engined biplanes. They announced their intentions to fly directly to Ireland. The only thing delaying them was poor weather. Foreign skepticism greeted the Navy’s insistence that its interest was solely of a scientific nature. To the Europeans it was obvious that America wanted to be first, in spite of the diplomatic overtures about sharing ships and whatnot. The Navy’s statement that the NC program was simply a “development of a wartime project” was derided by the press. Actually, when Lord Northcliffe re-established the prize after the war, the rules had changed a bit. No longer were “ocean stoppages” permitted and “machines of enemy origin” were barred. Thus the NC’s and the giant German bombers, respectively, were neatly eliminated. Furthermore, the United States had made no attempt to file an entry fee, and the American crews were forbidden to accept any possible prize money, even if offered – or earned. It was to be just a well-organized, all-Navy endeavor.
Credence was lent to this announced policy when, in an unprecedented ceremony on the third of May, the three flying boats were placed in regular Navy commission, just as if they were ships of the line. John Towers formally assumed command of NC Seaplane Division One. His orders, signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, acting Secretary of the Navy, gave Towers a status roughly equivalent to that of a destroyer flotilla’s commander. Towers chose the NC-3 as his “flagship” and then made the crew assignments for which so many had waited so long. Richardson was to be chief pilot of the NC-3. Naval Aviation pioneers Patrick N. L. Bellinger and Albert C. Read were detailed to the NC-l and NC-4 respectively. Walter Hinton was to be one of the pilots of the NC-4. A lieutenant commander named Marc Mitscher, who had originally been slated to command the NC-2, was to be a pilot of the NC-l. LCdr. Richard E. Byrd was ordered to go aboard the NC-3 with Towers, but to proceed only as far as Newfoundland. Meticulous as the planning had been, the Navy was taking no chances. There was an extra card up its sleeve – a long-range airship. The C-5, a non- rigid gas bag with an open-cockpit, power/control car slung beneath, may have been ungainly in appearance, but it was capable of travelling long distances through the air. Recent experience had indicated it could easily reach the Azores and, likely enough, the continent of Europe. The C-5 was ordered to proceed to St. John’s where her commander would be joined by LCdr. Byrd who would navigate her across the Atlantic. . . .
A native of New Hampshire, LCdr. Albert Cushing Read was an observant man, small of stature, conservative in his ways and economical with words. Friends called him “Putty,” an unlikely nickname of obscure origin. One story has it that the monicker was earned when he came back from a summer vacation sporting a pallid complexion instead of a suntan. At any rate, the five-foot-four, 120-pound New Englander certainly knew how to express himself with effect in January 1918, he had married Bessie Burdine, a young lady whose family owned Miami’s largest department store. While quiet to the point of reticence, he could be articulate when necessary. Graduated from the Naval Academy with honors, he soon became one of the Navy’s best officers. As Naval Aviator #24, he was known as a brilliant pilot and navigator. The Navy was his life, the NC-4 a pivot point. The trio of giant flying boats had departed Rockaway in a “V” formation beneath leaden clouds: the “flag- plane” NC-3 was flanked on the right by the NC-l and on the left by the NC-4. As the group made a sweeping turn around the air station and took up heading for Montauk Point, in the flight suit pocket of each crewman was a somewhat withered gift, a four-leaf clover – farewell gestures from Aviation Director Irwin. The gruff old Captain had brought them to the station on the 3rd of May. Now he stood below, sternly watching a year and a half’s work drone slowly out along the coast, headed for the jump off point in Canada. Soon they were lost to view. . . .
As the formation moved eastward, the navigators busied themselves with Byrd’s inventions and made computations. At noon Read made a note in his log: “Passing Montauk Point. Sun came out.” He was feeling pretty good. From his position in the bow, he could see Towers in the lead plane and, several hundred yards beyond, Pat Bellinger in the NC-l. Both seaplanes stood out clearly, yellow wings shining brightly against the blue waters of the ocean below. Looking aft along the hull, he could see the helmeted heads of his pilots, Stone and Hinton. Lt. Elmer Stone was the pioneer aviator of the Coast Guard. During the war he had been a test pilot, his performance earning him a place on the trans-Atlantic list. Ltjg. Walter Hinton was formerly an enlisted man. His skill in handling flying boats qualified him for the NC-4. Normally the two pilots would take turns at the controls, each spelling the other at half-hour intervals. But when rough air was encountered, it would take the strength of both men to keep the massive plane on course. Hinton had made the takeoff from Rockaway, and it was agreed to swap positions for each leg of the trip. The first landing was to be at Halifax. From there they’d go to Trepassey Bay, near St. John’s, the jumping-off spot for the big effort. They had turned a little northward after Montauk Point, heading toward Cape Cod. At 12:30 Chatham Naval Air Station out on the Cape radioed a message:
“DELIGHTED WITH SUCCESSFUL START. GOOD LUCK ALL THE WAY.” – ROOSEVELT.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt had long considered the NC’s his pets. He had encouraged the project every step of the way and had given all possible support. In April, while Josephus Daniels was in Europe, accompanying President Woodrow Wilson at the disarmament talks, Roosevelt had made a quick trip to Rockaway, eagerly seeking a ride in one of the big boats. The weather was not the best that day, the men were nearly worn out from constant work, but Richardson took him up in the NC-2. It was a rough, bumpy flight, with FDR crouching just behind the pilot. When he got back on land, he was slightly green but full of enthusiasm. And now, on the NC-4, one of his school classmates and boyhood friends was the engineer, Jim Breese. Lt. James Breese had also been a test pilot during the war. But it was his experience as a power plants expert, especially on the Liberty engine, that put him on the team. His assistant was Chief Machinist’s Mate Eugene Rhoads. “Smokey” Rhoads, who had replaced the unfortunate Chief Howard, was reputed to be one of the best engine men in the Navy.
Filling out the crew was Ens. Herbert Rodd, an experienced radio operator who had helped in the development of the direction-finding compass. The ensign was a good man with a radio he was now getting remarkable results with the long-range transmitter. But he was having trouble talking with the man 30 feet away. Read’s intercom was out. Standing in the bow, he was waving futilely at his pilots who seemed not to understand what it was he wanted. The NC-4 was falling far behind the other two planes, and he’d been motioning for more speed. They had passed Cape Cod and were now over open sea on the way to Nova Scotia. Read lowered himself into the hull to go back to the pilots when Jim Breese arrived to tell him they’d had to kill the center pusher engine owing to dropping oil pressure. The plane could fly well on the three remaining engines, so they decided to continue, informing Towers of the situation. At 2:05 P.M., they passed through hazy air over the first of the “station” destroyers, the McDermut.
Right on course, Read could barely make out the other NC’s miles ahead. He had a slightly uneasy feeling as he headed for the next ship, 50 miles further on. Halfway there, a geyser of water and steam suddenly erupted from the forward center engine, and Read watched a connecting rod sail out of the crankcase and off into space. Now they’d have to go down. Crawling to the pilots, Read yelled to turn into the wind and land. Rodd was busy with his radio. The distress call got through. Towers and two destroyers heard it. Although the other planes continued on, they had seen the flash of wings as Hinton made the turn and assumed Read was going back to Chatham. They had not seen the NC-4 descend. The water surface was calm enough for a safe landing but, once down, Rodd couldn’t get through to anyone the destroyers were too busy talking to each other. He couldn’t be heard on the long-range radio, and the short-range transmitter was on a frequency different from the ships’ receivers. In the haze, a searching destroyer passed within ten miles of the floating seaplane without spotting her. A little discouraged, Read soon found himself in the middle of an empty sea, about 80 miles from the nearest land, with night coming on. There was nothing else to do but start taxing with the two good engines left. He hoped they would hold out. After dark the moon came up and they had a fairly pleasant ride. The engineers and pilots took turns at the controls and Read even got a little sleep. Towards dawn they tried to chase a passing steamer but only succeeded in losing another engine. For 20 minutes Breese and Rhoads worked on it while the NC-4 made circles in the ocean. Finally finding the right combination of cuss words to unlock the secrets of a recalcitrant Liberty, they were underway again. At dawn they were just off Chatham as two seaplanes took off from the air station to join in the search. They didn’t have far to look.
Read’s “shakedown” had turned into a breakdown. Headlines announced the incident which, when added to the NC-4′ S past misfortune, gave rise to her new name: the “Lame Duck.” Within two days one bad engine was replaced, the other repaired. But once again the elements were against them a gale set in and a 40-knot northeaster held them in the Chatham hangar till the 13th. Public indignation was aroused. A lot of taxpayers’ money was supporting a vast fleet of station ships waiting idly at sea. Read was frustrated, but during this period he received some encouragement from the northern weather dispatches. Conditions on the Newfoundland-Azores route were so bad that the NC-l and NC-3 weren’t going anywhere, either. When the NC-4 had been lost to sight and its distress call intercepted, Towers assumed it would either land by the McDermut for repairs or return to Chatham, so he kept on. During the afternoon, he and Byrd kept busy in the NC-3’s cramped forward compartment, trying out the sextant, dropping smoke bombs and making calculations with the drift indicator. During the trip north, both planes were in and out of squalls. Hot and cold air rushing over headlands toward the sea combined to form a vicious mixture. The strain of handling the big boats was taking its toll on the pilots, especially Dick Richardson who was over 40 years of age. Buffeted by gusty winds, the Nancy’s pitched and yawed, and it took the constant efforts of the pilots to remain on course. The final three hours were the most severe but, upon arrival over Halifax, they were rewarded with a wondrous view. A beautiful rainbow extended from a hilltop to the clouds 6,000 feet above. Beyond the brilliant band, a rich red sunset tinted the fading colors of the rolling landscape with a crimson glow. Cheering crowds and factory whistles added to the glamour as the NC’s taxied to their moorings.
Upon arriving in the Canadian port, Towers was disturbed to hear of the apparent loss of the NC-4, but he knew the sea conditions had been good and had no fear for the safety of Read and his crew. Hence the news of their “rescue” the next morning came to report their activities. Some reporters lived in remodeled railroad car (right). Had conditions improved sooner, either at the Azores or over the north Atlantic route to Ireland, U.S. or British teams would have been on their way and the delayed “Lame Duck,” NC-4, might have lost its chance to be first across Atlantic. It was no surprise, and he set about repairing minor damage to his own plane. Cracked propellers were a problem, but with the help of wartime friends of Byrd, exchanges were achieved.
On the 10th of May they were off again. Still the air was rough and now quite cold. To his annoyance, Richardson aboard the NC-3 found his arms muscle-bound from the exertions of two days before, and he was slow in his reaction on controls. His copilot, McCulloch, assumed the load until he had the kinks worked out. Following the line of station ships, the NC-3 passed Placentia Bay and the men sighted their first icebergs. From 3,000 feet, Richardson noted they had the appearance of majestic steamships, but that their intense whiteness gave betrayal. “Around each berg,” he later wrote, “the water was illuminated by reflected light from submerged portions, presenting a particularly arresting appearance – like that of the sun shining through the back of high breakers running in on the beach.” Dick Richardson always enjoyed things like that.
As they approached Trepassey Bay, a gradual descent was made. The air was gusty and the shocks were more violent as they neared the surface and came closer to the barren land. Strong swells were rolling as they touched water near Powell’s Point. To get within the bay, Richardson kept the NC-3 skimming at high planing speed – careening, bouncing, slipping through “an avalanche of wind which rushed across the harbor from the bluffs.” With goggles fogged by salty spatter, he couldn’t see the water clearly and consequently mistook the spraying wake of a speeding boat, which raced beyond in welcome, for an iceberg. He had visions of floes all around him and “would not have been surprised had one come crashing through the hull at any moment.” Bellinger experienced the same conditions. By evening both NC’s were safely tied up near the base ship, USS Aroostook.
It had been an interesting day. Dreary windswept Trepassey Bay hadn’t seen so much activity since the times when sinister ships made use of the harbor’s haven. To the British teams, 60 miles across the hills, over at St. John’s, it might well have seemed that pirates were again abroad in those waters – with Lord Northcliffe’s prize at stake. The members of the press enjoyed the situation. North Atlantic weather was still delaying an English start so, once the reporters realized the Americans meant business, they for- sook their favorites, Hawker and Grieve, and moved their camp from the comfortable surroundings of the Cochrane Hotel in St. John’s to the windy, forlorn wastes of Trepassey. Not that it was all that bad. They acquired a railroad dining car, outfitting it with a stove, table, cots and a cook. This they had hauled down to Trepassey as living quarters. On its side they painted the name, NANCY-5. The Aroostook was the mother ship of Seaplane Division One. Since each NC crew member was limited to five pounds of personal luggage, the Aroostook, carrying all their clothes and extra articles, would follow them to Plymouth. Towers and Richardson, being the senior officers, were assigned the ship’s pilot house as sleeping quarters. It had even been fitted out with two brass beds. Towers noted that since the room was mostly glass-sided, they had the privacy of the proverbial goldfish bowl. Nevertheless, while waiting for the Atlantic weather to clear up, they had a comfortable time of it.
Commander Towers had been, since 1914, the driving force and guiding genius of the plan to cross the Atlantic in an American airplane. NC-3 entered harbor of Ponta Delgada in the Azores on May 19, 1919, after Towers and his crew had sailed 205 miles through varying sea conditions. On the 18th, weather was still so bad that Read and his men were forced to stay in Horta. In spite of gala celebrations and congratulatory messages from around the world, Read was concerned. There had been no word of Towers. On top of that, disturbing news came through from Canada. The British had made their move. Stampeded by Read’s successful flight to the Azores, Hawker and Grieve set out to head off the Americans. During the afternoon, they had taken off from St. John’s, jettisoning their Sopwith’s landing gear to gain speed for the run to Ireland. An hour later, Raynham and Morgan tried to follow but their Martinsyde couldn’t make it off the field. They crashed and Morgan was seriously injured. By the next day, Hawker and Grieve had vanished over the North Atlantic. In view of the gallant effort, all England mourned and Lord Northcliffe donated the $50,000 as a consolation prize to the flyers’ widows. On the 19th of May, a U.S. Marine battery stationed in the hills west of Ponta Delgada sighted something out to sea. As the destroyer Harding moved to lend assistance, John Towers stood in the heaving remnants of the NC-3 and shouted, “Stand off! We’re going in under our own power!” He and his crew had sailed the cracked and broken boat 205 miles, backwards, through violent seas to their destination. He didn’t need help now. In spite of Towers’ fantastic achievement, LCdr. Read was the popular hero. And so it came to be that when the NC-4 continued on to Lisbon and thence to England, Towers was not on board. Now, when a fleet commander has his ship shot out from under him, he transfers his flag to another. The circumstance was parallel in Towers’ case. Roosevelt thought so. But Josephus Daniels did not agree. Even when the question was raised on the floor of Congress, Secretary Daniels stood fast in his conviction that since Read had made it to the Azores in the NC-4, he should continue as her sole commander. Towers was forbidden even to ride along as a passenger he was ordered to proceed to Plymouth aboard a destroyer. It was a bitter pill for the man who was Commander of U.S. Seaplane Division One, a chief planner and organizing genius of the expedition, and it was a keen disappointment to the other members of the group, including Albert Read.
“We are safely across the pond. The job is finished!” – LCdr. Albert C. Read
The rest is history. Read arrived in Lisbon harbor at twilight on May 27, 1919, the first man to cross the Atlantic by air. He “finished the job” four days later as the NC-4 landed at Plymouth. The last leg had been planned for “sentimental” reasons. Later, in London, he was pleased to grip the hand of Harry Hawker. The two British flyers had been forced down in the mid-Atlantic but managed to ditch near a passing ship. Lack of a wireless had postponed news of the rescue for several days. The excitement over the flight of the NC-4 soon faded. Within two weeks the British team of Alcock and Brown accomplished what Hawker had set out to do. A month later, the dirigible R-34 flew from Scotland to New York – and then returned to England. More flights followed, including Dick Byrd’s, his dream of flying the Atlantic finally come true. And for the men involved with the NC project, the future held divergent paths. Glenn Curtiss, who had done so much for the development of aircraft in America, wearied of his courtroom battles with attorneys of the all- encompassing Wright aero patents. He moved to Florida where his investments in such holdings as Hialeah and Opalocka paid handsome dividends: in five years, more than he had ever made in building airplanes. Jim Breese, too, became a successful businessman, and Walter Hinton left the service to find adventure on the Amazon. Most of the others stayed with the Navy, completing lengthy and, in some cases, illustrious careers. Bellinger, Byrd, Mitscher, Read and Towers all achieved flag rank. During World War II, Mitscher’s work with Task Force 58 earned him the title of “Admiral of the Marianas.” Later, Towers became Commander of the Pacific Fleet.
Lots of information in today’s post and yes, it was a little longer than usual however, I hope you enjoyed this trip back in time and when time permits view the video below which recaps the events we have talked about today.
Have a good weekend, enjoy time with family and friends, and remember to use the following two words often during the coming days – MERRY CHRISTMAS – because these words are about family and friends…..not politics or religion.
1919- Seaplanes Cross the Atlantic - History
1919 Chronology of Aviation History
Major Aviation Events
1919 Aviation Records
Speed: 191.1-mph, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Nieuport-Delage 29v, 16 December 1919
Distance: 1,884-miles, Alcock and Brown, Vickers Vimy, 15 June 1919
Altitude: 34,610-feet, Roland Rohlfs, Curtiss Wasp, 18 September 1919
Weight: 44,672-lbs, WG Tarrant Ltd., Tarrant Tabor
Engine Power: 700-hp, Fiat, A. 14
1919 &mdash First flight of the Savoia S.16 flying boat.
1919 &mdash First flight of the Armstrong Whitworth Siskin.
January &mdash First flight of the De Havilland Oxford.
January 2 &mdash Ipswich, England &hellip A new altitude record is established by Captain Lang, R. A. F., at Ipswich, England, with a passenger. An altitude of 30,500 feet is reached unofficially.
January 6 &mdash United States Transcontinental Pathfinding Tour &hellip Four US Army Curtiss JN-4H (Hispano-Suiza) airplanes complete a 4,000 mile flight in 50 flying hours. Aerial photographs and maps taken and aerial mail routes and landing fields selected.
January 8 &mdash Civil aviation resumes in Germany.
January 10 &mdash Airco DH.4s of No.2 (Communications) Squadron, RAF are converted for transporting passengers and mail between London and Paris, in support of the Versailles Peace Conference.
January 12 &mdash United States, Rockaway to Key West &hellip United States Naval dirigible C1 (Goodyear) flies 1,450 miles.
January 16 &mdash Maj A.S.C. MacLaren and Cpt Robert Halley arrive in Delhi, completing the first England-India flight, in a Handley Page V/1500.
January 19 &mdash Jules Védrines claims a FF 25,000 prize by landing an aircraft (a Caudron G-3) on the roof of a department store in Paris. Védrines is injured and his aircraft is damaged beyond repair in the hard landing in a space only 28 m x 12 m (92 ft x 40 ft).
January 24 &mdash New Italian Record &hellip A Italian biplane, the Marchetti Vickers Terni, equipped with a 200 horsepower Spa motor, and piloted by Sergeant Elia Lint, attains under official tests, and over a closed circuit, an average speed of 160 miles per hour.
January &mdash United States &hellip A U.S. Navy airplane is successfully launched from a dirigible in flight.
January 26 &mdash Marseilles to Algeria &hellip Lieutenant Roget and Captain Coli pilot a French Breguet airplane across the Mediterranean Sea for a distance of 457 miles in five hours.
February 1 &mdash Cape May, New Jersey &hellip A Goodyear Airship flies 33 hours. Assuming an average speed to have been 40 miles per hour, approximately 1,320 miles were flown.
February 2 &mdash San Diego, California &hellip The Annual Flying Circus was held at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, in which more than 200 airplanes of all types took part.
February 5 &mdash Beginning of regular flights between Berlin and Weimar by the Deutsche Luft-Reederei with AEG and DFW biplanes.
February 8 &mdash Henry Farman carries 11 paying passengers in his plane from Paris to London on first commercial flight between the two cities.
February 12 &mdash Paris to Brussels &hellip Paris to Brussels and return. Farman Goliath carrying 17 passengers flies 325 miles in 4 hours and 52 minutes.
February 12 &mdash Romorantin, France &hellip New looping record set by Lieutenant B. W. Maynard, a test pilot at American assembly plant at Romorantin, France, loops 318 times without losing altitude, flying a British Sopwith Camel.
February 13 &mdash North Atlantic Ocean &hellip British non-rigid airship N.S.11 patrols North Sea for four days, four hours and fifty minutes with crew of 10.
February 13 &mdash London to Paris &hellip London to Paris flight. Airco DH-4 airplane flies to Paris from London in I hour and 50 minutes.
February 19 &mdash United States &hellip Lieutenant E. E. Harmon, piloting a Lepere biplane, 400 horsepower Liberty engine, flies from Mineola, Long Island, to Washington, in 85 minutes.
February 21 &mdash First flight of the Thomas-Morse MB-3, first US-built fighter.
February 21 &mdash Ithaca, New York &hellip American Speed Record. Thomas-Morse Scout, equipped with 300 horsepower Hispano-Suiza motor, attains speed of 164 miles an hour at Ithaca, N. Y., recorded as witnessed and officially recognized by Director of Military Aeronautics.
March 1 &mdash German airline Deutsche Luft-Reederei (DLR) begins scheduled flights to Hamburg. An airmail service begins Folkestone and Cologne.
March 1-15 &mdash New York City, NY &hellip First Annual Aeronautical Exposition of Manufacturers Aircraft Association at Madison Square Garden and 69th Regiment Armory, New York City.
March 1 &mdash France &hellip French Aerial Mail Service established between Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles.
March 2 &mdash Padua, Italy to Vienna, Austria &hellip Italian Aerial Mail Service is established between Padua, Italy, and Vienna, Austria, a distance of 304 miles.
March 3 &mdash Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA &hellip Canada to United States Air Mail service is initiated when William E. Boeing, in a Boeing seaplane, flies from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seattle, a distance of 200 miles. The trip was authorized by the Canadian Post Office and the bag was officially received in Seattle by the Mayor of that city.
March 6 &mdash United States &hellip Pilot C. J. Zimmerman in an Aeromarine Model 40 Flying Boat, meets the S.S. Leviathan carrying the 27th Division at sea, and drops a bag of letters of welcome on board addressed to Major-General John J. O'Ryan.
March 10 &mdash Australia's Prime Minister announces a £10,000 reward to the first aviator who will fly from Great-Britain to Australia in less than 30 days.
March 12 &mdash New York &hellip Commercial delivery merchandise by airplane made in Curtiss J.N. by Roland Rohlfs for a New York department store on a flight from Mineola Long Island, to Mt. Vernon, NY.
March 13 &mdash New York &hellip A Curtiss M.F. boat is sent by Commander Schofield as an aerial ambulance from Far Rockaway, Long Island, to St. Luke's Hospital, New York City.
March 20 &mdash United States &hellip A 150 mile radio telephone conversation is carried out by the Secretary of Navy Daniels as he talks to pilot in seaplane in flight.
March 22 &mdash California to Nevada &hellip Three DH-4 airplanes cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an altitude of 14,000 feet, flying from Mather Field, Sacramento, to Carson City, Nevada City, in 85 minutes, as compared with average train time of 9½ hours.
March 22 &mdash First regular international commercial route opens between Paris and Brussels, flown by an F.60 Goliath from Farman airlines.
March 23 &mdash France &hellip On a flight from Marseilles to Paris, M. Roget covers an approximate distance of 500 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes.
March 24 &mdash Igor Sikorsky flees Europe for the United States.
April &mdash First flight of the British Aerial Transport Company F.K.26 Commercial - first purpose-built airliner.
April 4 &mdash Chile &hellip Lieutenant Cortinez, of Chilean Army, crosses the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 19,800 feet in a British Bristol monoplane.
April 6 &mdash Lyon, France to Rome, Italy &hellip M. Goget makes a non-stop flight from Lyon, France to Rome, Italy flying a distance of 684 miles in 7 hours.
April 10 to May 10 &mdash Remarkable records made by Victory Loan Flying Circus &hellip The Victory Loan Flying Circus, composed of three flights, each flight consisting of 15 pilots and many types of airplanes, tours the country with performances given in 88 cities in 45 states. A total of 1,275 flights are made with 368 civilians taken as passengers and 19,124 miles flown.
April 16 &mdash Flight across Continent &hellip Major T. C. Macauley piloting a DH-4 airplane arrives at Southern Field, Americus, Georgia, from San Diego, California, covering a distance of 2,400 miles, in 19 hours flying time, completing round trip flight in 44 hours and 15 minutes.
April 18 &mdash CMA (Compagnie des Messageries Aériennes) commences a mail and freight service between Paris and Lille, using ex-military Breguet 14's.
April 19 &mdash Non-Stop Flight &hellip Captain E. F. White, piloting a DH-4 army biplane, makes the first non-stop flight between Chicago and New York City. An average speed of 106 miles per hour is maintained for the 727 miles.
April 23 &mdash Sixth National Foreign Trade Convention &hellip held in Chicago adopts the following resolution calling for establishment of separate department of Aeronautics: "Realizing the unquestioned advantages of having the speediest possible mail, and express service in enabling American enterprise to compete successfully in securing the specifications and requirements of our foreign contracts, this convention urges prompt Congressional consideration of suitable plans for developing aerial navigation. The establishment of the necessary aids to such navigation, the investigation of development of the fundamental principles of commercial aeronautics, the promotion of airship service to distant countries, are matters which demand the prompt establishment of a separate department of the government. One of its chief duties should be to provide the necessary information which will make possible the use of aerial navigation as an aid to foreign trade."
April 23 &mdash The North Sea Aerial Navigation Company begins a passenger run between Leeds and Hounslow in ex-military Blackburn Kangaroos.
April 26 &mdash Garden City, NY &hellip Final speed tests on Curtiss Wasp at Garden City show 160.1 to 162 miles per hour with full military load.
April 26 &mdash World Duration Record &hellip A United States Naval F-5-L Flying Boat remains in the air 20 hours and 19 minutes with a crew of four 1,250 nautical miles covered.
May &mdash A Fairey IIIC seaplane is used for a regular newspaper run, carrying the Evening Times to towns along the Kent coast.
May 2 to May 10 &mdash Macon, Georgia &hellip Southeastern Aeronautical Congress meets at Macon, Georgia.
May 3 &mdash New York to Atlantic City &hellip First Passenger Air Service in United States. Mrs. J. A. Hoagland and Miss Ethel Hodges are carried from New York to Atlantic City and return by pilot Robert Hewitt in an Aeromarine Model 50 "S" Flying Boat.
May 5 &mdash France &hellip French machine climbs to altitude of 4,860 meters with 24 passengers.
May 8 to 31 &mdash North Atlantic Ocean &hellip First crossing of the North Atlantic by air achieved by Lt. Cdr. A. C. Read of the U.S. Navy, flying a Navy Curtiss NC-4 flying-boat.
May 8 &mdash Trans-Atlantic Flight &hellip Departure of NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4 from Rockaway on first leg of Trans-Atlantic flight.
May 8 &mdash Macon, GA to Washington, DC &hellip Martin Bomber flies 650 miles in 7 hours and 55 minutes completing round trip flight from Macon, Georgia, to Washington.
May 8 &mdash Hampton Roads, VA &hellip United States Naval Macchi flying boat establishes altitude record of 10,800 feet in 15 minutes at Hampton Roads, Virginia, with one passenger.
May 10 &mdash First flight of the Avro Baby.
May 10 &mdash Berlin to Stockholm &hellip German machine flies from Berlin to Stockholm, 570 miles, in 7 hours.
May 10 &mdash Paris to Copenhagen &hellip French machine flies 690 miles from Paris to Copenhagen in 8 hours.
May 11 &mdash Navy Balloon Race &hellip Navy's free balloon race won by Lieutenant P. D. Collins. Winner remains aloft 21 hours 9 minutes and covers 420 miles.
May 14 &mdash Dirigible Record &hellip Navy's C-5 dirigible (Goodyear) makes record flight of 1,115 miles from Montauk Point, Long Island, to St. Johns, Newfoundland, in 25 hours and 40 minutes on first leg of Trans-Atlantic flight. Severe storms after landing tears dirigible from its moorings and carries it out to sea, where it is lost.
May 15 &mdash Boston to Atlantic City &hellip M. W. Hodgden in a Whittemore-Hamm I-2 biplane with a 90 horsepower engine flies from Boston to Atlantic City in 3 hours and 59 minutes.
May 15 &mdash A transcontinental air route between Chicago and Cleveland is inaugurated by US Mail.
May 15 &mdash Aerial Mail Service &hellip established between Chicago and Cleveland.
May 17 &mdash Houston to Belleville &hellip Colonel G. C. Brant, U. S. A., flies DH-4 army airplane from Houston, Texas, to Belleville, Ill. 720 miles in 453 minutes.
May 18 &mdash Trans-Atlantic Flight Attempt &hellip Harry G. Hawker and Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth Grieve attempt a Trans-Atlantic flight in a Sopwith biplane equipped with a 375 horsepower Rolls-Royce motor. Motor trouble develops after about 1,200 miles are covered and machine is forced down near a passing steamer and the pilot and observer are rescued.
May 18 &mdash Harry Hawker and Lt Cdr Kenneth Mackenzie-Grieve attempt a non-stop Atlantic crossing but are forced to ditch their aircraft only 2,253 km (1,400 miles) after leaving Newfoundland. London's Daily Mail newspaper awards them a prize of £5,000 for their attempt anyway.
May 19 &mdash Turin to London &hellip A 3-engine Caproni, with a crew of eight, makes a non-stop flight from Turin, Italy, to London, England, 600 miles.
May 22 &mdash United States &hellip Departure of American Aviation Mission to study aviation problems of foreign countries.
May 23 &mdash Cleveland Ohio &hellip Army Goodyear dirigible A-4, piloted by James Shade, lands on roof of Cleveland hotel.
May 24 &mdash Medical Flight &hellip First visit of a surgeon to patient made by Dr. F. A. Brewster, Beaver City, in a Curtiss J.N.
May 24 &mdash Paris to Morocco &hellip Lieutenant Roget of French Army flies 1,375 miles in non-stop flight from Paris to Morocco.
May 27 &mdash First Trans-Atlantic flight &hellip United States Navy's NC-4 (Navy-Curtiss) successfully completes Trans-Atlantic flight, landing at Lisbon, Portugal.
May 31 &mdash First Trans-Atlantic flight &hellip NC-4 arrives at Plymouth, England, completing last leg of first Trans-Atlantic flight.
June 1 &mdash A permanent flight of aircraft is stationed in San Diego to serve as a forest fire patrol. The machines are war-surplus Curtiss JN-4s.
June 1 &mdash Establishment of aerial forest patrol.
June 1 &mdash Baroness de la Roche ascends 12,870 feet in single motored Caudron G.3, breaking world's altitude record for women.
June 3 &mdash Regular merchandise delivery begun at Chicago with Curtiss JN's by cloak manufacturers.
June 12 &mdash Raymonde de Laroche breaks the women's altitude record, flying to a height of 5,150 m (16,896 ft).
June 13 &mdash Lieutenant Casale, of French Army, reported to have reached an altitude of 33,100 feet in type Nieuport 29 airplane. This reading of the barograph is without air temperature and other corrections.
June 14 &mdash First non-stop Trans-Atlantic flight. Captain John Alcock, pilot, and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, navigator, complete first non-stop flight across Atlantic Ocean in 15 hours and 57 minutes.
June 17-20 &mdash The largest of British dirigibles, R-34, cruises for 56 hours.
June 23 &mdash Six Zeppelins (LZ 46, LZ 79, LZ 91, LZ103, LZ 110, and LZ 111) are destroyed at Nordholz by their own crews in order to prevent them from falling into Allied hands.
June 25 &mdash First flight of the Junkers F.13.
July &mdash First flight of the Westland Limousine.
July 1 &mdash London's first airport is opened, at Hounslow Heath. The facilities include a permanent Customs hall.
July 2 &mdash The Airship R34 achieves the first airship crossing of the Atlantic and the first East-West Atlantic flight, leaving East Fortune, Scotland, to arrive in New York on July 6. The journey becomes a successful two-way crossing when the airship arrives in Back in the UK on July 13.
July 2 &mdash "NC" heroes officially dined by the American Flying Club in New York City.
July 6 &mdash First Trans-Atlantic dirigible flight. R-34 lands at Roosevelt Field after having successfully completed the first leg of its round-trip Trans-Atlantic flight.
July 7 &mdash Non-stop speed record. Captain L. H. Smith in a De Havilland Bluebird flies from San Francisco to San Diego, 610 miles in 246½ minutes.
July 9 &mdash R-34 starts on return trip to England.
July 10 &mdash Curtiss Trans-Atlantic Dinner. Glenn H. Curtiss host to naval officials, including Lieutenant- Commander A. C. Read, in honor of first Trans-Atlantic flight, gives dinner at Hotel Commodore.
July 11-14 &mdash W. H. Blair pilots Curtiss Seagull from New York to Detroit, Michigan, via Hudson River, Barge Canal, and Great Lakes.
July 11 &mdash Navy mail left by a destroyer fleet is brought to New York from Block Island in a seaplane.
July 11 &mdash Army airship A-4 flight from Akron, Ohio, to Langley Field, Virginia. Makes 407 miles in 18 hours. Lieutenant G. W. McEntire in command.
July 12 &mdash R-34 arrives in England completing round trip Trans-Atlantic flight.
July 12 &mdash Seaplane crosses Alps. Taddioli, Swiss aviator, first flier to cross in this type of plane.
July 12 &mdash Army Balloon School's carnival at Fort Omaha.
July 12 &mdash Night altitude flight. Lieutenant C. C. Chauncey in a Lepere attains an altitude of 20,000 feet at Arcadia, Florida.
July 13 &mdash First permits granted by Canadian Military authorities for flight across international boundary are given to Lieutenant 0. S. Parmer and Ensign G. D. Garman, Americans.
July 14 &mdash A Fiat BR makes the first direct flight from Rome to Paris.
To protest against the fact that pilots have to parade on foot at the victory parade on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, French pilot Charles Godefroy flies his Nieuport fighter under the arches of the famous Arc de Triomphe.
July 15 &mdash Sid Chaplin Aircraft Company establishes Los Angeles-Catalina Island daily passenger service with Curtiss Seagulls, first regular passenger-carrying line in United States.
July 16 &mdash Rome to England. Lieutenant F. Brockpapa makes flight via Paris in 8 hours, 30 minutes covering a distance of 950 miles.
July 18 &mdash Air delivery available for all first class United States mail.
July 20 &mdash Mediterranean crossed. Captain Marchal, French, flies 450 miles from St. Raphael to Bigerta in 5 hours, 40 minutes in a seaplane.
July 21 &mdash Anthony Fokker founds the Dutch Aircraft Factory at Schiphol.
July 23 &mdash South American record. Antonio Merolla, the Argentine aviator, ascends 16,500 feet in a seaplane with one passenger.
July 24-Nov. 9 &mdash "Round the Rim" flight. Lieutenant - Colonel R. L. Hartz and Lieutenant E. E. Harman in a Martin Bomber start from Bolling Field, Washington, District of Columbia. Complete circuit of the United States is made covering 9,823 miles.
July 28 &mdash First test by United States Bureau of Fisheries of observation of fish schools from aircraft is made at Cape May, New Jersey, with the cooperation of Naval Air Station, showing possibilities of aircraft in research and commercial lines.
July 28 &mdash Independent Air Service. Representative Curry introduces bill to establish a Department of Aeronautics, which is referred to the Committee on Military Affairs.
July 30 &mdash Flight over the Andes. Lieutenant Locatelli, Italian, first to cross South American Continent by air-from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, 800 miles.
July 30 &mdash New American altitude record. Officially made by Roland Rohlfs in Curtiss Wasp triplane when lie ascends 30,300 feet.
July 31 &mdash Flight over the Sierra Nevadas. Lieutenants J. M. Fetter and Tobin S. Curtiss make a trip from Sacramento, California, to Ogden, Utah, 540 miles in Curtiss-Hispano machines.
July 31 &mdash Independent Air Service. Senator New introduces a bill to create a Department of Aeronautics, which is referred to Committee on Military affairs.
Aug. 1-Sept. 14 &mdash International Aircraft Exposition, Amsterdam, Holland. First exposition in Europe since Armistice. Among aircraft flown to the show was an 8 passenger Blackburn which flew from Leeds via London and Brussels-440 miles. By night, planes flew to London for theater, returning in morning. 10,000 flights were made during show.
August 1 &mdash Lieutenant J. P. Corkville with Sergeant J. R. Cook in Lepere fly 186 miles from Arcadia, Florida, to Daytona Beach in 75 minutes, flying 148 miles an hour at 6,000 feet altitude.
August 2 &mdash 137 miles an hour at altitude of 18,400 feet. Lepere machine piloted by Major R. W. Schroeder, and equipped with a 400 horse-power Liberty motor establishes a record at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.
August 2 &mdash Glides 35 miles. "Tex" Marshall in Thomas-Morse plane, makes record from altitude of 17,000 feet, when he glides 35 miles, renewing power at an altitude of 6,000 feet.
August 4 &mdash Pikes Peak circled by Lieutenants A. Landrum and Ira J. Humphries.
August 3 &mdash London to Madrid. British service plane flies 900 miles in 7 hours, 45 minutes.
August 5 &mdash Test Flight. Major S. M. Strong and associates arrive at Arcadia, Florida, completing round trip flight to New York, 2,972 miles in 2,851 minutes flying time. Stops were made in 20 cities.
August 5 &mdash Andes again crossed. Lieutenant Locatelli, Italian, flies 750 miles from Santiago, Chili, to Buenos Aires, in 7 hours, 10 minutes.
August 6 &mdash Madrid to Rome. Aviator Stopanni makes a non-stop flight of 900 miles in 11 hours, 45 minutes using Italian seaplane.
August 7 &mdash Flight over Canadian Rockies. Captain A. C. Hoy, D. F. C., makes trip from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Lethbridge, Alberta.
August 8 &mdash Passenger height record. Maurice Walbaum and mechanic at Villacoublay, climb 25,740 feet.
August 8 &mdash Speed record. Colonel H. B. Claggett in a D.H.-4 flies from Washington to the Statue of Liberty, 210 miles, in 1 hour, 24 minutes.
August 11 &mdash Paris to Morocco. Farman Goliath carrying 10 passengers, makes 1,116 miles in 16 hours, 20 minutes.
August 13 &mdash One passenger record. Lieutenant Weiss with mechanic Ian Begul, both French, attains an altitude of 30,000 feet in 52 minutes.
August 13 &mdash All-American Pathfinders. Thirteen army airplanes fly 4,000 miles through 15 states to collect landing field and mapping data and stimulate recruiting.
August 14 &mdash First mail delivered by flying boat to steamer at sea Aeromarine flying boat drops bag on forward deck of White Star liner Adriatic 1½ hours after she leaves her pier in New York.
August 18 &mdash Lieutenant De Rissis flies from Buenos Aires to Asuncion and return, 1,300 miles, in Bristol airplane.
August 18 &mdash England to Denmark. Major F. Gron with 7 passengers. in Handley-Page machine, flies from London to Copenhagen, 640 miles.
August 22 &mdash Buffalo to New York. Curtiss 3 passenger Oriole biplane, piloted by J.D. Hill, flies 440 miles in 4 hours, 10 minutes.
August 22 &mdash Aerial Mail Day in Cleveland. Members of Manufacturers Aircraft Association, Officials of Army Air Service, and Aerial Mail participate in ceremony under auspices of Cleveland Aero Club and Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.
August 24 &mdash Airship over Berlin. With 35 passengers the "Bodensee," 394 feet long, circled Berlin at a speed of 75 miles an hour.
August 25 &mdash London to Paris &hellip World's first scheduled daily international commercial airline service began, Aircraft Transport and Travel's London to Paris service.
August 25-29 &mdash New York-Toronto Aerial Derby. Conducted by American Flying Club.
August 25-29 &mdash Curtiss Oriole takes first prizes for speed and reliability among commercial machines in New York-Toronto Air Race.
August 25 &mdash Italian dirigible circles Naples with 20 passengers arrives over city after three hour flight from Rome and makes return trip in afternoon.
August 25 &mdash Indian Aerial Mail. Sites for aerial mail aerodromes have been selected at all the principal cities of India, excepting Bombay where land is very expensive. British mails will be landed at Karachi and distributed over country by subsidiary aerial services.
August 28 &mdash Low parachute drop. Major O. Lees, R.A.F., makes 250 foot jump from seaplane into New York Harbor.
August 29 &mdash Airplane with passenger lands on roof. Edwin E. Ballough, pilot, then hops off at Newark, New Jersey.
August 29 &mdash Timber hunting. Captain Daniel Owen, R.A.F., in command of expedition, hunting timber, locates by use of air planes great timber lands in Labrador.
August 29 &mdash Norweian fishermen buy a seaplane to search for herring shoals.
September 2 &mdash Speed record. Sadi Lecointe in SPAD flies 125 miles in 48 minutes, 8 seconds. Performance in Italy, not officially observed.
September 2 &mdash France to Italy. Pilot Maneyvol, French, in Morane monoplane flies from Paris to Rome, 1,250 kilometers in 5 hours, 59 minutes.
September 4 &mdash Spain to Italy. Aviators Busco and Casatti flying Nieuport machine, make the trip from Barcelona to Varise in 5 hours, 50 minutes, 500 miles.
September 5 &mdash Naval speed record. Pontoon seaplane, piloted by Lieutenant L. T. Barin and carrying Lieutenant Commander N. H. White, Jr., U. S. N., commanding Naval Air Station, Hampton Roads, flies from Hampton Roads to Philadelphia, cover in a course of approximately 270 miles in 135 minutes at the rate of 2 miles a minute.
September 5 &mdash Berlin to Switzerland. Regular passenger air service is opened between resorts of these countries.
September 5 &mdash Whale-hunting with airplanes. Machines patrol west coast of Vancouver Island, and when whales are spotted the news is wired to whaling ships.
September 5 &mdash Air service for Belgian Congo. An aeronautic mission is now in the Belgian Congo, organizing a passenger carrying air service. Twelve seaplanes will be used between Kinchasna and Stanleyville, 1,050 miles.
September 6 &mdash New altitude record officially made by Major R. W. Schroeder and Lieutenant G. Elfrey who ascend 29,000 feet in a Lepere airplane, at Dayton, Ohio.
September 8 &mdash Italy to Holland. Lieutenant Campacii and petty officer Guarnieri of the Royal Italian Navy cross Alpine mountain chain in Switzerland with a Savoia seaplane, then follow Rhine to Amsterdam.
September 13 &mdash Lawson air liner arrives in New York from Milwaukee.
September 14 &mdash Altitude record. Roland Rohlfs makes a new record of 34,200 feet flying Curtiss Triplane. Unofficial.
September 14 &mdash Cairo to Paris. Commander Vuillemin, French, makes a trip of 2,500 miles, stopping at Constantinople and Istris near Marseilles, using a French service plane.
September 15 &mdash Holland to England. Vickers-Vimy commercial machine with 8 passengers makes trip from Amsterdam to Hounslow in, 2 hours, 50 minutes.
September 16 &mdash Radio test. Airplane 2,000 feet up sends radio to submerged submarine. Test is made at Fishers Island.
September 17 &mdash Austria to France. Lieutenants Story and Blizence of the Czecho-Slovak aviation service make flight from Prague to Paris via Mayence, approximately 600 miles.
September 17 &mdash Twelve passenger Glenn L. Martin army transport flies to Dayton, Ohio, from Cleveland at 117 miles an hour.
September 18 &mdash Official World's Altitude Record. Roland Rohlfs climbs 34,910 feet in a Curtiss Wasp triplane, equipped with a Curtiss K-12 400 horse power motor. For purposes of international comparison the barograph was read without air temperature corrections, thus conforming with European practise. After calibration by the Bureau of Standards, Rohlfs' barograph showed a minimum corrected altitude of 32,450 feet. These readings give Rohlfs the official record in both corrected and uncorrected classes, his nearest rival being Lieutenant Casale, who is reported to have reached an uncorrected altitude of 33,100 feet.
September 19 &mdash Roland Rohlfs in Curtiss Wasp climbs 19,200 feet in 10 minutes and in the first two minutes of flight climbs 4,800 feet. Ten minute climb approved by Bureau of Standards.
September 19 &mdash CMA (Compagnie des Messageries Aériennes) commences a regular service between Paris and London, using ex-military Breguet 14's.
September 21 &mdash Swedish record flight. Aviator Rodehn, flying a 260 horsepower Swedish airplane, makes non-stop flight from Ystad to Haparanda, 1,420 kilometers, in 7½ hours.
September 23 &mdash N.C.-4 off on a recruiting trip.
September 24 &mdash The Schneider Trophy race is flown at Bournemouth, UK. An Italian Savoia S.13 is the only finisher, but is disqualifed for missing a turning buoy. When judges ask pilot Guido Janello to complete another lap, he runs out of fuel.
September 26 &mdash Army-Navy Balloon Race starts at St. Louis.
September 29 &mdash New hydro-monoplane altitude record. Caleb S. Bragg with passenger makes new world's altitude record of 18,759 feet in Loening 300 horse-power Hispano-Suiza hydro-monoplane.
September 29 &mdash Loening Monoplane, as a seaplane with Twin Floats, breaks the world's seaplane altitude record for two passengers, climbing to 18,759 feet, developing at the same time a speed of 131 miles per hour which is said to be considerably faster than any other American Seaplane.
September 30 &mdash The British Aerial Transport Company begins domestic flights between London and Birmingham in a Koolhoven FK.26.
Commander Biard, flying the Supermarine route between Southampton and Le Havre, knocks his passenger out during the flight. The man, a Belgian banker named Lowenstein, wanted to open his umbrella to protect himself from the wind and rain.
October 1 &mdash Goodyear airship wins 1,021 mile National Free Balloon Race, St. Louis, Missouri.
October 4 &mdash Two man Altitude Flight. Major R. W. Schroeder, Pilot, and Lieutenant George W. Elsey, Observer, reach indicated and uncorrected altitude of 33,335 feet, in Lepere biplane, equipped with 400 horse-power Liberty motor. The engine was fitted with a supercharger and the plane was otherwise specially prepared. Barographs to the date of this writing had not been corrected by the Bureau of Standards. McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, where the flight was made, reports corrections bringing the record down to 31,796 feet.
October 7 &mdash KLM is formed.
October 7 &mdash Boy flies 2,000 miles with mother. A Curtiss Oriole 3 passenger biplane, piloted by Ralph Block arrives at Mineola Long Island, from Houston, Texas, with Mrs. Seymour E. J. Cox and her nine year old son, Seymour, as passengers, establishing a new record for a cross country airplane flight by civilians.
October 8 &mdash The US Army Air Service begins a trans-continental air race. By the time Lt Belvin Maynard wins it on October 31, seven airmen have died in the attempt.
October 8-30 &mdash New York to San Francisco airplane reliability test. Race under auspices of American Flying Club.
October 11 &mdash Handley Page Transport begins offering the first in-flight meals, on its London-Brussels service. The meals, consisting of a sandwich, fruits and chocolate, are sold at 3 shillings each.
October 13 &mdash Convention relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation signed in Paris.
October 14 &mdash Air mail in Colombia (South America). Experimental aerial mail service starts between Barranquilla and Puerto, Colombia.
October 14 &mdash France to Australia flight. Begun by Lieutenant Poulet, French pilot in French biplane.
Oct. 14-Dec. 10 &mdash London to Australia, 11,500 miles. Four machines enter. Trip carries pilots over three continents and many oceans with a 1,750 mile hop at the end of the journey, from Bandoeng (Java) to Port Darwin (North Australia). Captain Ross Smith left London at 9 o'clock, November 12, and December 10 arrived at Port Darwin.
October 17 &mdash Japan appropriates the equivalent of $125,000,000 for air service.
October 17 &mdash Air mail in Brazil. Brazilian budget for 1920 includes the establishment of aerial mail service. Government's loan will amount to $25,000,000.
October 17 &mdash Iceland sees airplane for first time. Captain Cecil Farber, late R.A.F., establishes commercial aviation at Danish Island Colony.
October 18 &mdash Speed record between London and Paris. Captain Gather good, flying an Airco D.H.-4 machine with a Napier engine makes a new record of 80 minutes for a distance of 250 miles.
October 20 &mdash The French pilot Bernard de Romanet, flying a Nieuport-Delage 29v, sets a new world speed record of 166.92 mph.
October 21 &mdash Chinese aviation. The Vickers Company of England contracts to supply airplanes and equipment to the Chinese Government for $43,000,000.
October 21 &mdash London to Australia flight. Captain George Matthews, English, with Sergeant Kay, Australian, begins 13,000 mile flight in Sopwith two-seater.
October 21 &mdash Air route covers Finland from Sortavala on the Lagoda to Murmansk.
October 24 &mdash The Curtiss Eagle, an eight passenger aerial liner, and first American three motored machine, makes its first public flight, Garden City, Long Island, to Washington, District of Columbia, and return. In ten days in Washington it made 82 flights and carried 476 people, mostly United States government and foreign government officials.
October 27 &mdash Keyport New Jersey, to Havana, Cuba. C. J. Zimmerman begins 1,421 mile flight in Aeromarine flying boat.
October 27 &mdash Key West to Cuba Air Service. Three Aeromarine flying boats, models 50S, 40C, 40L fly from Key West to Cuba, inaugurating the service between these points.
October 28 &mdash New looping record. Alfred Flamval, French, in military airplane, loops 624 times in 2 hours at Villacoublay, France.
October 28 &mdash R-38, England's largest airship, is purchased by United States Navy for $2,500,000.
October 28 &mdash New York to Cuba air freight service is begun.
October 29 &mdash Glenn L. Martin mail plane, the first twin motored mail ship, begins service.
October 30 &mdash Reversible propeller. New American device tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, permits airplane to land and be brought to a stop within 50 feet.
November 1 &mdash Key West, FL to Havana, Cuba &hellip America's first scheduled international commercial air service began, between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba, by Aeromarine West Indies Airways.
November 1 &mdash Two, Aeromarine boats leave New York for Miami, covering 1,350 miles in 19½ hours flying time.
November 6 &mdash Aerial flower service from Paris to Copenhagen. French plane covers trip with one intermediate landing in Holland, in one day, carrying half a ton of flowers.
November 9 &mdash Morocco to Tunis. Major Chentin and Lieutenant Pontanchan flies 1,250 miles without a stop.
November 10 &mdash First flight of the Blériot-SPAD S.27.
Nov 12 to Dec 10 &mdash England to Australia &hellip First flight from England to Australia completed by Australian brothers Keith and Ross Smith.
November 12 &mdash Keith and Ross Macpherson Smith set out to fly a Vickers Vimy, G-EAOU, from England to Australia, the first flight between these two places. They arrive in Darwin on December 18.
November 14 &mdash The American Railway Express Company hires a Handley Page V/1500 to carry 454 kg (1,000 lb) of parcels from New York to Chicago, but the attempt fails due to mechanical problems.
November 15 &mdash Alameda officials make an announcement stating that suspected criminals will be subjected to perilous flight to make them confess their crimes.
November 16 &mdash Captain Henry Wrigley and Sgt Arthur Murphy make the first aerial crossing of Australia, flying a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2e from Melbourne to Darwin, Northern Territory, taking 47 hours.
November 17 &mdash Navy reports total hours of flight in heavier than air machines on other than patrol duty, for the year 1919, up to a total 57,452. There were 3,399 hours spent in lighter-than-air flights. Approximately 1,000 hours were spent in patrol flights of all kinds.
December 2 &mdash First flight of the Handley-Page W8.
December 2 &mdash Aerial mail speed record. An L. W. F. remodeled D.H. mail airplane, equipped with two Hall-Scott motors, establishes new speed record from Washington, District of Columbia, to Belmont Park. Time, I hour, 34 minutes. Distance flown, 218 miles speed, 138 miles an hour. 30,000 letters weighing 630 pounds carried.
December 3 &mdash Havana to New York. Pilot Zimmerman, in Aeromarine flying boat, makes return flight from Havana.
December 3 &mdash Airplane Coast Patrol starts from Mineola, L. I. Two D.H. machines leave Mitchell Field on flight to Langley Field, Virginia, establishing first coast patrol. The pilots will report ships between New York and Virginia and in the case of accident will wireless the position of the disabled vessels.
December 5 &mdash Avianca is founded as the Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transporte Aéreo in Barranquilla.
December 5 &mdash Senate Military Affairs Committee by a vote of 9 to 2, approves the Senate bill recommending a Department of Aeronautics, headed by a member of the President's cabinet.
December 5 &mdash Endurance flight. Goodyear airship flies 41 hours, 50 minutes at Key West, Florida. Assuming average speed to have been 30 miles per hour, the ship probably flew 1,255 miles.
December 16 &mdash Three and three quarter miles a minute reported. Sadi Lecointe, French Aviator, said to have attained speed of approximately 226 miles an hour in an airplane test. He covered the distance of a kilometer at an average speed of 307.225 kilometers (about 190 miles) an hour. During some seconds of his flight he reached a speed of 364.5 kilometers (226 miles) an hour or about 3¾ miles a minute.
December 17-18 &mdash Mineola, N. Y., Hampton, Va., and Return - Non-stop. 1st Lieutenant C. E. Duncan and I st Lieutenant L. M. Wightman, in a D.H.4. flew from Mitchell Field, Mineola, L. I., N. Y., to Langley Field, Hampton, Va., non-stop in 190 min. and on the following day return was made in 215 min.
December 18 &mdash Sir John Alcock is killed in a crash at Rouen.
Dec. 19-Jan. 4, 1920 &mdash International Aeronautical Exposition held at the Grand Palais, Paris, France. The commercial application of aerial navigation was given prominence in this exposition.
December 27 &mdash First flight of the Boeing Model 6, Boeing's first commercial design.
- Gunston, Bill, et al. Chronicle of Aviation. Liberty, Missouri: JL Publishing Inc., 1992. 14-17
- Manufacturers Aircraft Association, Inc. Aircraft Year Book 1920. New York City: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1920. 246-258
- Parrish, Wayne W. (Publisher). "United States Chronology". 1962 Aerospace Yearbook, Forty-Third Annual Edition. Washington, DC: American Aviation Publications, Inc., 1962, 446-469.
- Wikipedia, 1919 in aviation
- Shupek, John (photos and card images), The Skytamer Archive. Skytamer.com, Whittier, CA
Copyright © 1998-2018 (Our 20 th Year) Skytamer Images, Whittier, California
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By Emily Hegranes
While outside we enter the second-half of May and quickly descend into June, as I work away inside the archive, my mind inevitably wanders to the subject that seems to be on everyone’s mind this time of year: summer travel plans. Even for those no longer bound to the timetable of the educational system, summer is still synonymous with vacation and travel, myself included.
But with my occupation, even my thoughts on travel end up turning in a historical direction. One hundred years ago, in 1919, our main mode of long-distance transportation today was still a scary, new technology that the general public was wary to place trust in. It would not be until eight years later, when Charles Lindbergh completed is non-stop transatlantic in 1927, that commercial air travel would truly take-off. But in May of 1919, one of the crucial steps to the success of air travel was undertaken by the U.S. Navy: the first transatlantic flight of the NC-4.
The Curtiss NC seaplanes were originally created by the U.S. Navy to participate in World War I. By the time the four commissioned NC planes were completed in 1919, however, the war had been over for several months. Now with several brand-new planes in their possession, but no war to fly them in, the officers in charge of these planes decided to utilize the planes for a more empirical pursuit. That is, they wished to demonstrate that the NC-4 and its sister planes (the NC-1, NC-2, and NC-3) were capable of transatlantic air travel, a feat never before accomplished.
The crew of the NC-4 makes the final preparations prior to their departure on the first transatlantic flight. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph)
The NC-4 began its journey on 8 May 1919—accompanied by the NC-3 and NC-1 (the NC-2 had been cannibalized to repair parts of the NC-1 before the journey started)—at Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York, before flying on to Newfoundland, on 15 May. On 16 May, the three NCs continued on the longest leg of the journey, from Newfoundland to the Azores. It was during this portion of the expedition that the NC-1 and NC-3 were damaged, and the NC-4 was forced to carry out the remainder of its journey alone.
The NC-4 arriving in Lisbon, Portugal, on 27 May 1919, completing the first transatlantic flight. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph)
The crew of the NC-4 set out from the Azores on 20 May, but due to technical difficulties were only able to fly 150 miles to another island in the Azores chain. Luckily, the crew was able to conduct repairs and on 27 May set off once again across the Atlantic. Nine hours and forty-three minutes later, the NC-4 landed in Lisbon, Portugal, and became the first aircraft to cross an ocean. The NC-4 later flew on to England, arriving in Plymouth on 31 May 1919 to great fanfare.
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Seaplane, any of a class of aircraft that can land, float, and take off on water. Seaplanes with boatlike hulls are also known as flying boats, those with separate pontoons or floats as floatplanes. The first practical seaplanes were built and flown in the United States by Glenn H. Curtiss, in 1911 and 1912. Curtiss’ inventions led to the British F-boats of World War I, which originated such naval air missions as over-ocean patrol, antisubmarine warfare, mine laying, and air–sea rescue. After the war, commercial versions of the same seaplanes set the range and endurance records of the time. In 1919 the U.S. Navy’s water-based NC-4 made the first crossing of the North Atlantic, via the Azores. By the late 1920s the largest and fastest aircraft in the world were seaplanes. Their utility and versatility were dramatized by a Soviet flight of an ANT-4 fitted with floats from Moscow to New York City in 1929 via Siberia and by fleets of Italian planes that flew from Rome to Rio de Janeiro and from Rome to Chicago in the 1930s. After the outbreak of World War II, the military and commercial significance of seaplanes gradually diminished, partly because of increased range of land-based planes and partly because of the construction of land bases and aircraft carriers. Following World War II, development of water-based aircraft continued, but only on a small scale.
A seaplane must have sufficient buoyancy to float on water and must also have some means for supporting its weight while moving along the water surface at speeds up to flying speeds. It must be able to take off and land with a margin of stability and control on the part of the pilot its structure must be strong enough to withstand the shock of landing and its water resistance must be low enough to permit reasonably short takeoff runs.
Ways of meeting these requirements were provided by Curtiss in two forms. He developed the float seaplane, which is essentially a land plane with buoyant floats or pontoons substituted for the landing wheels, and the flying boat, in which the main float and the fuselage are combined in a single boatlike body. In either case float design includes a stepped bottom to facilitate takeoff. As speed and lift increase, the seaplane lifts onto its step so that it is barely skimming the water with friction at a minimum. Single-float seaplanes and single-hull flying boats require side floats or wing-tip floats to keep them upright. Twin-float seaplanes do not require the auxiliary floats, nor do twin hull flying boats and single hull boats with stub wings, or sponsons, located at the waterline.
The addition of a retractable landing wheel gear to a float seaplane or flying boat, also accomplished by Curtiss, created the amphibian aircraft capable of operating from land runways or water. A post-World War II development was the pantobase, or all-base, airplane incorporating devices for operating from water or from a variety of unprepared surfaces such as snow, ice, mud, and sod.
First Successful Seaplane FlightUS #2468 pictures a Benoist Type XIV airboat. It was part of the first scheduled airline service in the world.
On March 28, 1910, Henri Fabre made the first successful powered seaplane flight. Traveling over 1,900 feet and wowing a crowd of spectators, he inaugurated the seaplane and flying boat industry that would flourish for the next several decades.
Some of the earliest attempts at building planes that could takeoff from the water came in the late 1800s. In 1876, Alphonse Pénaud of France filed a patent for a flying vessel with a boat hull and retractable landing gear. Wilhelm Kress of Austria is often considered the first person to build a seaplane in 1898. However, his Drachenflieger’s engines weren’t strong enough for it take off and it sank. In 1905, Gabriel Voisin of France made one of the first unpowered flights when he used a glider pulled by an automobile.
It would be Henri Fabre who would enter the history books for the first successful powered seaplane flight, though. Born in 1882 in Marseille, France, Fabre was an engineer from a family of ship owners. In 1906, he began working on plans for a seaplane, with help from two mechanics and a naval architect.
US #C100 – In 1919, a Navy-Curtiss flying boat became the first plane to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
It took Fabre four years to develop his plane, which resembled a large wooden dragonfly flying backwards. Three hollow floats made it possible to take off and land on the water. He named his hydravion (the word at the time he used for the type of seaplane) Canard (duck) because its wings were similar to a duck with a small forewing ahead of the main wing. His plane was 45 feet wide, 27 feet long and weighed 837 pounds. It had a 50-horsepower engine and three floats.
US #C20 pictures the Martin M-130 seaplane that inaugurated transpacific airmail in 1937.
Fabre, who had never flown before, staged his first flight on March 28, 1910, at Étang de Berre, Martigues, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. A large crowd assembled to watch the historic event. They witnessed him take off and land safely on the water four times, with his longest flight covering over 1,900 feet. Within a week, Canard made a three-and-a-half-mile trip. Inventors from other countries soon contacted Fabre to use his floats on their seaplanes.
US #3142r – Boeing’s 314 Clippers flew the first transpacific flight in 1936, the first transatlantic flight in 1939, and the first round-the-world flight in 1947.
The seaplane industry quickly grew, with the first hydro-aeroplane competition held in Monaco in 1912. Planes at that competition used floats from Fabre, Curtiss, Tellier, and Farman. France introduced the first scheduled seaplane passenger flights in 1912. That same year, Glenn L. Martin set time and distance records flying his own homemade seaplane in California.
US #3917 – The PBY Catalina was the top long-range flying boat used by the US and our allies during World War II.
American aviator Glenn Curtiss developed his Curtiss Model D between 1910 and 1911. It won him the first Collier Trophy for flight achievement in America. It paved the way for his Model E and Model F “flying boats.” One of his flying boats later became the first seaplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1935, the Glenn L. Martin Company built three Martin M-130 Flying Boats. With a range of 3,200 miles, these seaplanes could fly mail and passengers over the Pacific. They were designed for Pan American Airways and were named the China Clipper, Philippine Clipper, and Hawaii Clipper.
US #UXC25 pictures the Yankee Clipper, which flew transatlantic mail service.
During World War II, flying boats were in high demand for the military. They could conduct anti-submarine patrols, air-sea rescues, and gunfire spotting for battleships. The PBY Catalina was a leading US craft that rescued downed airmen and scouted enemy ships. Demand for flying boats declined dramatically after the war, as the length and number of runways had vastly increased. Flying boats were used during the Berlin Airlift, and the US Navy continued to use them until the 1970s. In 1990, the first round-the-world flight in a floatplane was completed.
June 15, 1919: First Nonstop Flight Crosses Atlantic
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__1919: __John Alcock and Arthur Brown land their Vickers Vimy airplane in a bog in Clifden, Ireland, marking the end of the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
It's a good bet to win a drink at a bar: "Do you know who was the first person to fly across the Atlantic in an airplane, nonstop?" Most takers think it's Charles Lindbergh.
But the true answer is the kind of knowledge only the most die-hard aviation geeks would know: Alcock and Brown.
In 1913, the British newspaper the Daily Mail offered a prize of 10,000 pounds sterling (about $1.1 million in today's money) to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. But World War I intervened the following year before anybody could make an attempt, and the competition was suspended.
In reality, it was unlikely anybody could have made the crossing in 1913. But by the end of the war, aviation technology had improved significantly. In late 1918, the competition to fly across the Atlantic resumed and stipulated the flight must be made in less than 72 hours. With fighting still fresh in the minds of the British, a new rule prevented teams of "enemy origin" to enter.
By the spring of 1919, several teams had gathered in St. Johns, Newfoundland, vying to be the first to cross the Atlantic and collect the prize. There were so many teams that Alcock and Brown had a difficult time finding a suitable field they could use as a runway for their flight.
There were no airports in the area. The Vickers Vimy airplane they had prepared for the attempt back in England was still en route by steamship, and other teams had already set up camp at the best locations.
The Vickers Vimy was a large airplane for the time. The twin engine bomber was developed for use in World War I, but it wasn't ready until after the war had ended, and it never saw combat over Europe. With a wingspan of more than 67 feet, the biplane was powered by a pair of 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce engines producing 360 horsepower each.
The airplane used for the record-setting attempt was modified by removing the bomb racks and adding extra fuel tanks, so it could carry 865 gallons for the flight. The pilot and navigator sat in an open cockpit at the front of the airplane.
By mid-May, one of the rival teams had flown nearly 20 hours east across the ocean before engine troubles forced the crew to ditch at sea. Fortunately, the plane crashed near a ship that was able to rescue the two-man crew. Another attempt at the prize ended in a crash before the airplane was even able to get airborne.
The Vickers Vimy arrived in Newfoundland on May 26. Two teams had failed to make the crossing, and the prize was still up for grabs, as was some good real estate for a suitable runway. The team was allowed to use a small field to assemble the airplane, but it was not long enough for the heavily fuel-laden airplane to take off.
The Vimy arrived in 13 crates and was assembled in a large canvas tent in just two weeks. At the same time the airplane was being assembled, Alcock had found a suitable takeoff field. Groups of people worked to clear rocks and fill ditches to make it smooth enough for use as a runway.
After a few days waiting out bad weather, the decision was made to fuel the airplane at its new field and make an attempt for the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic. (A U.S. Navy Curtiss seaplane had flown from Newfoundland to Portugal in May, after a 10-day stop in the Azores.) After a few last-minute repairs to fix a broken landing gear that failed under the weight of the fuel, Alcock and Brown lifted off from Lester's Field on the afternoon of June 14.
Brown radioed the message, "All well and started," to announce they had begun their journey. Unfortunately, it would be the first and last radio message the crew would make. The wind-powered generator failed shortly after, and the duo was left without a radio for the remainder of the flight.
Using a sextant and a drift-bearing plate, Brown was able to determine their position as they flew. Shortly after the radio went out, fog covered the sea, so he could not determine their drift. A haze developed, and he was unable to use the sextant to determine their location.
At night approached, Brown urged Alcock to climb above the clouds so he could use the stars to get a fix on their position. It was good news: He calculated they were averaging 106 miles per hour, faster than they had planned.
But soon they flew into another bank of clouds, and Alcock became disoriented and lost control of the aircraft. The airspeed indicator had been stuck and Alcock didn't realize the airplane was slowing down. Eventually it stalled and entered a spin.
They lost more than 4,000 feet as they spiraled toward the North Atlantic. Breaking out of the clouds at around 100 feet, Alcock was able to recover from the spin and with very little room to spare, leveled off and continued flying east toward Ireland.
The weather did not improve, and rain turned to snow as they flew farther east. Ice covered the airplane, and Brown had to frequently stand up in the open cockpit and clear ice and snow from the instrument sensors which were outside the cockpit.
Eventually, the ice covered the air intake of one of the engines. Alcock decided to shut the engine down before the backfiring could destroy it. Descending into warmer air, the duo hoped the ice would melt before they hit the water. At around 500 feet, they broke into clear skies and were able to restart the engine.
It seemed nothing more could go wrong with their flight, and sure enough less than half an hour after restarting the engine, Alcock and Brown spotted solid land. They had reached Ireland.
In a less-than-ceremonious landing, Alcock put the plane down in a bog he had mistaken for a smooth field. The wheels dug in, and the plane tipped onto its nose.
With a gentle crash at 8:40 a.m., they completed the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Accounts vary, but the flight of approximately 1,890 miles across the shortest part of the Atlantic had taken around 16 hours, averaging roughly 118 mph.
They were awarded the prize money in London by the British Secretary of State for War and Air, Winston Churchill. They were later knighted by King George V.
Over the course of the next several years, many more pilots would fly airplanes across the Atlantic, and even more would cross in airships. Different teams flew different routes between North America and Europe.
Eventually in 1927, Charles Lindbergh would make his historic flight between New York and Paris to win the Orteig Prize. It was the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic and the first to link the two major cities. Lindbergh was, however, the 19th person to cross the Atlantic in an airplane.
Pilots Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz recreated the flight of Alcock and Brown in a replica Vickers Vimy in 2005.
Photos: 1) Vickers Vimy departs Newfoundland./Canadian Forces
2) Vickers Vimy tipped on its nose in Ireland./Wikipedia