17–18 June 1928

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship on Southampton Water, after the transatlantic flight.

17–18 June 1928: Amelia Mary Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied pilot Wilmer Lower Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard the Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NX4204, Friendship. The orange and gold, float-equipped three-engine monoplane had departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and arrived at Burry Port, on the southwest coast of Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later.

Friendship had been originally ordered by Richard E. Byrd for his Antarctic expedition, but because Ford Motor Company was a major sponsor, he made the decision to switch to a Ford Trimotor airplane. Byrd sold the new Fokker to Donald Woodward, heir to the Jell-O Corporation, for $62,000, and it was registered to his Mechanical Science Corp., of Le Roy, New York. Woodward then leased the airplane to Mrs. Frederick Edward Guest (née Anne T. Phipps, also known as Amy Phipps) for her to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. She chose the name Friendship for the airplane.

Amy Phipps Guest
Amy Phipps Guest

Mrs. Guest was a daughter of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American industrialist. She was married to Captain the Right Honourable Frederick Edward Guest P.C., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.P., a prominent British politician, former Secretary of State for Air, and a member of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council. Amy Phipps Guest, however, was a multi-billionaire in her own right.

Mrs. Guest was not a pilot, so Stultz and Gordon had been hired to fly the airplane. When her family ruled out her transoceanic journey, “an American girl of the right type” was selected to make the flight in her place. Miss Amelia Mary Earhart, a social worker in Boston, was interviewed and was the candidate selected.

Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience, she did not serve as one of the pilots on this flight. She was, however, the aircraft commander. Instructions from Mrs. Guest’s attorney, David T. Layman, to Stultz and Gordon, dated 18 May 1928, were very specific on this matter:

“This is to say that on arrival at Trepassey of the tri-motor Fokker plane “FRIENDSHIP” if any questions of policy, procedure, personnel or any other question arises the decision of Miss Amelia M. Earhart is to be final. That she is to have control of the plane and of the disposal of the services of all employees as fully as if she were the owner. And further, that on arrival of the plane in London full control of the disposition of the plane and of the time and services of employees shall be hers to the same extent until and unless the owner directs otherwise.”

— The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 11 at Page 104.

Amelia Earhart can be seen in the open door to the passenger compartment of NX4204 (Gett Images/Archive Photos/PhotoQuest)
Amelia Earhart can be seen in the open cargo door of NX4204, Burry Port, Wales, 18 June 1928. (Getty Images/Archive Photos/PhotoQuest)

It was during the planning for this flight that Earhart first met her future husband, George Palmer Putnam.

Though Friendship was equipped with aluminum pontoons for water takeoffs and landings, it was otherwise the same type as Southern Cross, the airplane that Sir Charles E. Kingsford Smith flew from the United States to Australia earlier in the month. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands, in early 1928. Friendship , serial number 5028, was the fourth aircraft in the series. Flown by Bernt Balchen, it made its first flight 16 February 1928.

The Fokker F.VIIb/3m is a three-engine high-wing passenger transport with fixed landing gear. It could carry up to 8 passengers. The airplane was 47 feet, 11 inches (14.605 meters) long with a wingspan of 71 feet, 2 inches (21.692 meters) and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight was 6,725 pounds (3,050 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 11,570 pounds (5,248 kilograms).

Amelia Earhart with pilot Wilmer L. Stultz and flight mechanic Louis E. Gordon at Southampton, 20 June 1928. Amy Phipps Guest is at the left of the photograph. The Hon. Mrs. Foster Welch, Mayor of Southampton, is on the right. (Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections via the BBC)
Amelia Earhart at Southampton. Left to right are, The Honourable Amy Phipps Guest, flight mechanic Louis E. Gordon, Miss Earhart, pilot Wilmer L. Stultz, and Mrs. Lucia Marian Foster Welch, Mayor of the City of Southampton. (Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections via the BBC)

The F.VIIb/3m was powered by three 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.90 liter) air-cooled Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines. The left engine was serial number 8229, the center, 8280, and the right engine, 8321. These were direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. They drove two-bladed Standard adjustable-pitch propellers. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The standard airplane had a cruise speed of 92 knots (170 kilometers per hour) and carried 190 gallons (719 liters) of fuel. NX4204 was modified at Fokker’s American subsidiary, Atlantic Aircraft Corporation in New Jersey, increasing the total fuel capacity to 870 gallons (3,293 liters).

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Fokker F.VIIb/3m NX4204, Friendship, at Southampton after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Friendship was sold to José Roger Balet of Argentina in May 1929, and renamed 12 de Octubre, the date of an important national holiday. On 21 June 1931, the airplane was on a commercial flight from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza when it made an emergency landing in Alto Sierra. It was acquired by General Enrique Bravo for the Fuerza Aérea Nacional, November 1931.

Disassembled and crated, Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028 arrived at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 September 192x (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Disassembled and crated, Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028 arrived at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 April 1929, aboard the Munson Steamship Line’s S.S. American Legion. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The ultimate fate of the airplane is uncertain. Sources indicate that it was removed from service and salvaged for parts after June 1932. Other sources indicate that it was destroyed by accident or fire in September 1934.

Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028, 12 de Octubre, in El Palomar. (Foto Archivo General de la Nacion)
Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028, 12 de Octubre, at El Palomar, north of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The airplane was repainted red and was called “El Colorado.” (Foto Archivo General de la Nación)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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