Definition: Flight between North or South America and Europe or Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean.
Significance: Flight between the New and Old Worlds was one of the first challenges facing early aviation; it was more dangerous than flying over land, as the opportunities to refuel or to land in case of mechanical emergency were limited. However, the possible benefits of reducing the amount of time needed to transport passengers and cargo between the continents were enormous.
Early Propeller-Driven Aircraft
Between May 8 and May 27, 1919, three Curtiss flying boats set out to complete the first transatlantic flight in history. On May 8, the NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4 took off from Rockaway, Queens, New York, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the first leg of the transatlantic journey. The flight was under the command of John Towers, who was also the commanding officer and navigator of NC-3. NC-4 was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read, and NC-1 by Lieutenant Commander Patrick N. L. Bellinger, all of the U.S. Navy. En route, the NC-4 developed engine trouble off Cape Cod and was diverted to Chatham, Massachusetts. The NC-1 and NC-3 arrived at Halifax without incident and, on May 10, continued on to Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland. On May 14, NC-4 flew to Halifax and arrived at Trepassey Bay on the next day. On May 16, NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4 departed Trepassey Bay for Hort a in the Azores. On May 17, NC-4 arrived at Horta. NC-1 landed at sea and sank three days later. Its crew was picked up by the Greek freighter Ionia. NC-3 was badly damaged after landing off Horta.
On May 19, NC-3, battered and almost derelict, sailed into the harbor of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. On May 27, NC-4 departed Horta and arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, thereby completing both the first American transatlantic flight and the first transatlantic flight overall.
The flying boats had a wingspan of 126 feet, a length of 68 feet 3 inches, and a height of 24 feet 4 inches. Their operational weight was 27,386 pounds. They flew at a maximum speed of 91 miles per hour, and had a ceiling of 4,500 feet and a range of 1,470 miles. Their cruising speed was 14.8 miles per hour. Propulsion consisted of four Liberty 400-horsepower 12-cylinder Vee-type engines.
On June 15 and 16, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, British fliers of World War I, made the 1,900-mile trip from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to Clifden, Ireland, in 16 hours, 12 minutes. They flew in a Vickers-Vimy bomber with a length of 44 feet, a wingspan of 68 feet, and a height of 15 feet. The plane flew at a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour, cruised at 90 miles per hour, and could climb to 5,000 feet in 26 minutes. Its ceiling was 7,000 feet. Propulsion consisted of two 350-horsepower Rolls-Royce engines.
Lindbergh’s Solo Flight
On May 21, 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh, an American, completed the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in history, flying his Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis 3,610 miles between Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, and Paris, France, in 33 hours, 30 minutes. Although ninety-one persons on thirteen separate flights had crossed the Atlantic Ocean before him, he flew directly between two great world cities and did it alone. With this flight, Lindbergh won the $25,000 prize offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig to the first aviator to fly an aircraft directly across the Atlantic between New York and Paris. When he landed at Le Bourget Field in Paris, Lindbergh became a world hero who would remain in the public eye for decades.
The aftermath of the flight was the “Lindbergh boom” in aviation: aircraft industry stocks rose in value and interest in flying skyrocketed. Lindbergh’s subsequent U.S. tour in the Spirit of St. Louis demonstrated the potential of the airplane as a safe, reliable mode of transportation. Following the U.S. tour, Lindbergh took the aircraft on a goodwill flight to Central and South America, where flags of the countries that he visited were painted on the cowling. The Spirit of St. Louis was named in honor of Lindbergh’s backers in St. Louis, Missouri, who paid for the aircraft. “NYP” is an acronym for “New York-Paris,” the object of the flight.
The Spirit of St. Louis was designed by Donald Hall under the direct supervision of Lindbergh. It was a highly modified version of a conventional Ryan M-2 strut-braced monoplane, powered by a reliable Wright J-5C engine. Because the fuel tanks were located ahead of the cockpit for safety in case of an accident, Lindbergh could not see directly ahead except by using a periscope on the left side or by turning the airplane and looking out of a side window. This plane had a wingspan of 46 feet, a length of 27 feet 8 inches, and a height of 9 feet 10 inches. The gross weight of the aircraft was 5,135 pounds and propulsion consisted of one Wright Whirlwind J-5C 223-horsepower engine.
On June 5, 1927, Charles A. Levine became the first passenger on a completed transatlantic flight when the Wright-Bellanca WB-2 airplane in which he had departed on the previous day from Roosevelt Field, New York, arrived in Eisleben, Germany. Clarence D. Chamberlin had piloted the airplane, which had a wingspan of 46 feet 4 inches, a length of 27 feet 9 inches, and a gross weight of 3,550 pounds. This aircraft, the Columbia, was powered by one Wright J-5 220-horsepower engine.
On April 12, 1928, the single-engine, all-metal Junkers monoplane Bremen, piloted by German Captain Hermann Kohl and carrying the German Baron Gunther von Honefeld and Irish Captain James Fitzmaurice, departed Dublin, Ireland, for New York City. After 36 hours the plane landed on Greenly Island, Labrador, Canada, after completing the first east-west transatlantic crossing. The Bremen had a wingspan of 18.35 meters, a length of 10.90 meters, and a height of 3.50 meters. Its gross weight was 3,700 kilos. The top speed of the plane was 195 kilometers per hour, while it cruised at 150 kilometers per hour. Its range was 7,700 kilometers. Propulsion consisted of one 360-horsepower Junkers L 5 engine.
On September 2 and 3,1930, French pilots Dieudonne Coste and Maurice Bellonte flew a Hispano-powered Bre-guet biplane from Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, to Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, in 37 hours, 18 minutes, thereby completing the first Paris-to-New York nonstop flight.
Earhart’s Solo Flights
On May 20-21, 1932, the American Amelia Earhart became the first woman, and only the second person, to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft that she used was a bright red Lockheed Vega SB, a sleek new monoplane with a fully cantilevered wing and roomy cabin that was quickly welcomed by record-seeking pilots and the air transport industry. In June, 1928, Earhart had become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but she did so only as a passenger. She was frustrated because she did not sit at the controls for even one minute of that 20-hour, 40-minute flight, and she was determined to prove that she could fly on her own. She decided to use a Lockheed Vega.
This particular Vega had been manufactured on De-cember4,1928, at Lockheed’s Burbank, California, plant. Lockheed used it as a demonstrator until Earhart bought it on March 17, 1930. Her test flights began inauspiciously when, during a flight at Langley Field, Virginia, in September, 1930, a latch on herbackrest gave way and she was thrown backward into the cabin. The plane nosed over on landing and was sent to Detroit Aircraft Corporation for repairs. The wings, landing gear, and tail surfaces were all in good condition, but the fuselage had to be replaced and repairs took over one year.
Earhart turned the repaired Vega over to Bernt Balchen her technical advisor. He took the plane to the old Fokker Aircraft Company plant at Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. There he and mechanics Frank Nagle and Eddie Gorski reconditioned the plane for the upcoming flight. The fuselage was strengthened to take the extra fuel tanks that were added to provide a 420-gallon capacity.
On May 20, 1932, Earhart set off alone from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada. The weather posed a problem from the start, and at one point in the flight, ice on the wings forced her into a 3,000-foot unchecked descent. She finally managed to level off, and, constantly fighting fatigue, she landed in a field near Culmore, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She had made the 2,026-mile flight in 14 hours, 54 minutes.
The Vega was the first airplane built by Lockheed Corporation, and was noteworthy in reintroducing the monocoque or shell fuselage shape, which had first appeared in a racing airplane in 1913. This shape, wherein the fuselage was essentially a shell, maximized both the load-carrying ability of the aircraft and its useful internal space. It subsequently became a standard design practice for transport aircraft. The Lockheed SB Vega flown by Amelia Earhart had a wingspan of 41 feet, a length of 27 feet 6 inches, and a height of 8 feet 2 inches. It weighed 1,650 pounds when empty.
Other 1930′s Flights
On August 18, 1932, James A. Mollison, a British pilot flew a De Havilland Puss Moth from Portmarnock, Ireland, to Pennfield, New Brunswick, Canada. He thereby completed the first westbound transatlantic solo flight. The Puss Moth had a wingspan of 36 feet 9 inches, a length of 25 feet, and a height of 7 feet. Its gross weight was 2,050 pounds. It had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 108 miles per hour, and a range of 300 miles. It could climb at a rate of 610 feet per minute and had a ceiling of 17,500 feet.
Commercial and Helicopter Flights
On February 5, 1946, the U.S. commercial airline Trans World Airlines (TWA) began transatlantic service with the Lockheed Constellation, flying the route linking New York City with Gander, Newfoundland, Canada; Shannon, Ireland; and Paris, France. The Constellation had a wing-span of 123 feet, a length of 95 feet, 2 inches, and a height of 22 feet, 5 inches. It had a gross weight of82,000 pounds, a top speed of 340 miles per hour, and a cruising speed of 280 miles per hour. The ceiling of the aircraft was 35,000 feet and it had a range of4,300 miles. Propulsion consisted of four Curtiss-Wright Cyclone engines. The plane could accommodate four to five crew members and fifty-four passengers.
On January 30, 1947, TWA inaugurated transatlantic all-cargo service. This was the first regularly scheduled direct service ever operated over the North Atlantic.
Between July 15 and 31, 1952, Captain Vincent H. McGovern and First Lieutenant Harold W. Moore, both of the United States, completed the first transatlantic helicopter flight when they piloted two Sikorsky H-19′s from Westover, Massachusetts, to Prestwick, Scotland. The two men covered the distance of 3,410 miles in five stops, with a flying time of 42 hours, 25 minutes.
The H-19 was the first of the Sikorsky helicopters with enough cabin space and lifting ability to allow satisfactory operation in troop transport or rescue roles. The engine was mounted in the nose, leaving the main cabin free for passengers or cargo. The prototype was first flown in November, 1949, and in 1951 the U.S. Air Force ordered production model H-19′s. This helicopter had a rotor diameter of 53 feet, a fuselage length of 42 feet 4 inches, and a height of 15 feet 4 inches. Its gross weight was 8,400 pounds. It flew at a maximum speed of 112 miles per hour, and cruised at 92 miles per hour. Its range was 330 miles and it had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet. Propulsion consisted of one Wright R-1300-3 700-horsepower engine.
On May 31,1967, two U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” search and rescue helicopters departed New York on the first transatlantic nonstop helicopter flight, which ended 30 hours, 46 minutes later when the two aircraft landed at Le Bourget during the Twenty-seventh Paris Air Show. The helicopters were refueled nine times each by C-130 tanker planes at altitudes of between 1,000 and 9,000 feet and speeds of 125 miles per hour. The two helicopters had departed at 1:05 a.m., New York time,in order to arrive during the middle of “Helicopter Day” at 1:51 p.m. Paris time. Refueling helicopters from tanker planes was first attempted in 1965. After early success, the technique was refined, leading to the decision to produce all later HH-3E’s with refueling probes that partially retracted into the fuselage until needed.
The HH-3E had a rotor diameter of 62 feet, a length of 73 feet, and a height of 18 feet 1 inch. The gross weight of this helicopter was 22,050 pounds. It flew at a maximum speed of 162 miles per hour and had a range of 625 miles. Propulsion consisted of two 1,400-horsepower General Electric T-58-GE-10 turbo shaft engines.
On October 11, 1992, Venezuelan helicopter pilots Francisco Pacheco and Tomas Spanier flew a record-setting transatlantic trek from Venezuela to Spain on an MD-500D helicopter. They departed from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and ended at Palos de la Frontera, Spain, on December 16. The pilots recreated in reverse Christopher Columbus third voyage, marking that explorer’s first landing in Venezuela. The MD-500D helicopter had a length of 30,84 feet, a main rotor span of 26.41 feet, and a height of 8.9 feet. Its service ceiling without supplemental oxygen was 12,500 feet, and with supplemental oxygen it could reach an altitude of 16,000 feet. The aircraft’s gross weight was 3,000 pounds and its maximum speed was 156 knots. The normal range of the helicopter was 225 nautical miles, with a range of 300 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel.
On September 22,1950, Colonel David C. Schilling of the U.S. Air Force completed the first nonstop transatlantic jet flight when he flew 3,300 miles from the United Kingdom to Limestone, Maine, in 10 hours, 1 minute.
On August 26, 1952, a Canberra bomber of the British Royal Air Force completed the first transatlantic round trip in the same day when it flew from Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and back in 7 hours, 59 minutes. This bomber and visual attack aircraft had a wingspan of 64 feet, a length of 65 feet 6 inches, and a height of 15 feet 7 inches. Its gross weight was 53,000 pounds and its maximum speed was 605 miles per hour. Its range was 1,105 miles. Propulsion consisted of two 7,500-pound dry thrust Rolls-Royce Avon Mk 109 turbojets.
On October 4, 1958, the British airline BOAC inaugurated the first transatlantic jet passenger service with a link between New York City and London. Pan American World Airways started daily service between New York and Paris on October 26 of the same year.
On January 21,1976, the first regularly scheduled commercial supersonic transport (SST) flights began with the French airline Air France and the British airline British Airways. Air France flew the Paris-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, route while British Airways flew from London to Bahrain. Both airlines began SST service to Washington, D.C., on May 24.
Dirigibles and Balloons
On July 2,1919, the British dirigible R-34, commanded by Major George H. Scott, departed Firth of Forth, Scotland, and touched down in Mineola, Long Island, New York, 108 hours later. Referred to as “Tiny” by members of its crew, the R-34 was enormous and as large as a contemporary Dreadnought battleship. The R-34 was a “peacetime airship.” The original design had called for bomb racks and machine guns, but these were never fitted. In just over twelve months, it was completed by the Beardmore Company, located near Glasgow, Scotland, on December 20, 1918.
In midflight, it was discovered that one of the crew, William Ballantyne, who had been taken off of the flight crew in place of more important passengers, had stowed away on board and hidden between the girders of the ship along with the ship’s mascot cat Whoopsie. Both were found tired, cold, and hungry, and Ballantyne was immediately put on duty to work his passage to the United States.
After completing the first lighter-than-air transatlantic flight traveling from east to west, the R-34 was repro-visioned, regassed, and then began her homeward journey on July 10. The dirigible completed this eastbound trip in 75 hours. The R-34 had a length of 643 feet, a diameter of 79 feet, and a volume of 1,950,000 cubic feet. It traveled at 62 miles per hour, and propulsion consisted of five 270-horsepower engines.
On August 16, 1978, Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman, and Maxie Anderson, all of the United States, departed to complete the first transatlantic flight in a balloon, the Double Eagle II. On the following day they touched down in France.
On September 18, 1984, Joe W. Kittinger landed near Savona, Italy, in his helium-filled balloon Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace after a flight of 3,535 miles from Caribou, Maine. He thereby completed the first solo transatlantic balloon flight.
On July 2, 1987, Richard Branson and Per Lindstr and departed from Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine, for Ireland in the hot-air balloon Virgin Atlantic Flyer. Two days later they arrived in Ireland, thereby completing the first transatlantic hot-air balloon flight.