165. Hopping Across the Atlantic

In False Fame on June 7, I gave Lindbergh a bit of a hard time. That was fair, but there is more to the story.  Lindbergh left New York, flew to Newfoundland, then crossed the Atlantic and landed in Paris, all in one unbroken flight and solo. No one had done that before and he deserved credit for his achievement.

During the New York to Newfoundland part of the flight, and crossing France at the other end, Lindbergh could have tried to set his plane down in a cow pasture if it had faltered. He would probably have lived to tell the tale. It is the over water part of his flight that scared those who followed his exploits and made him a hero.

However, eight other men had already crossed the Atlantic by air and two of them were on a non-stop flight.

***

A great deal of progress in aviation had taken place between the Wright brothers first flight and the end of WW I. By 1919, the U. S. Navy was ready to attempt a flight across the Atlantic, using Curtiss flying boats.

There was a generation of world wide flight, now largely forgotten, between world wars one and two, that used flying boats. The reason was simple – there were few airfields. If you wanted to fly to Cuba, for example, your only choice was to land in the water at Havana harbor. All that changed in the 40s when warring nations, especially the US and Britain, built military airfields across the globe. When peace returned, the day of the flying boat was over.

300px-Curtiss_NC-4_four_engine_configuration-detailIn 1919, that generation of flight was just beginning. The U. S. Navy had commissioned Glenn Curtis to build four flying boats before the end of WW I, and now planned to use them in an attempt to cross the Atlantic by air.

On May 8, the NC (Navy Curtiss) 1, 3, and 4 left New York on a three jump flight to Newfoundland, where they were repaired and readied for the longest over water part of the journey. They left Newfoundland on May 16, heading toward the Azores. A string of naval ships were set out along the way for navigation or rescue. The NC-4 arrived at the Azores after a 15 plus hour flight. The NC-1 and -3 didn’t make it. The NC-1 landed in the open ocean; it crew was rescued but the craft later sank. The NC-3 also landed in open water, then taxied the last 200 miles to the Azores.

The NC-4, now alone, left for Portugal on May 20, but didn’t get far. After repairs, it again departed on May 27 and arrived at Lisbon harbor ten hours later. From North America to Europe, the trip took just under 27 hours – or just under 11 days, depending on how you spin your figures. Subsequently, the NC-4 flew on to Portsmouth, England, making it the first flight from the United States to Great Britain.

All in all, three aircraft with six-man crews and 53 Naval support ships were involved in the journey. The crew of the NC-4 were Albert Cushing Read, Walter Hinton, Elmer Fowler Stone, James Breese, Eugene Rhodes, and Herbert Rodd.

Two weeks later two British aviators made the Atlantic crossing non-stop. We’ll look at their flight tomorrow.

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