7 June 1937: Leg 10—the South Atlantic Crossing. At 3:15 a.m., Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Natal, Brazil, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, enroute across the South Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Afrique occidentale française (now, Senegal).
It was 3.15 in the morning when we left Parnamirim Airport at Natal, Brazil. The take-off was in darkness. The longer runway, which has lights, was unavailable because a perverse wind blew exactly across it. So I used the secondary runway, whose surface is of grass. In the dark it was difficult even to find it, so Fred and I tramped its length with flashlights to learn what we could and establish something in the way of guiding landmarks, however shadowy. Withal, we got into the air easily. Once off the ground, a truly pitch dark encompassed us. However, the blackness of the night outside made all the more cheering the subdued lights of my cockpit, glowing on the instruments which showed the way through space as we headed east over the ocean. “The night is long that never finds the day,” and our night soon enough was day. I remembered, then, that this was my third dawn in flight over the Atlantic. . . .
— Amelia Earhart
Fred Noonan wrote in a letter from Dakar, “The flight from Natal, Brazil produced the worst weather we have experienced—heavy rain and dense cloud formations. . . .”
In her notes, Earhart wrote, “. . . Have never seen such rain. Props a blur in it. See nothing but rain now through wispy cloud. . . .”
— from Finding Amelia by Ric Gillespie, Naval Institute Press, 2006, Chapter 5 at page 41.
The poor weather made it impossible for Noonan to find their way across the ocean by celestial navigation, his field of expertise. Instead, he had to navigate by ded reckoning (short for deductive recking, not “dead”) and to estimate course corrections.
When they arrived over the African coastline at dusk, they knew that they were north of their intended course but haze caused very limited visibility. Navigational errors had caused them to miss Dakar, so they turned north until they came to Saint-Louis, where they landed after a 1,961 mile (3,156 kilometer), 13 hour, 22 minute flight.
17 June 1920: At approximately 4:00 p.m., a De Havilland DH-4B piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Delmar H. Denton, engineering officer of the 1st Day Bombardment Group, took off from Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. Also on board was 2nd Lieutenant John H. (“Dynamite”) Wilson of the group’s 96th Aero Squadron. Lieutenant Wilson was wearing two parachutes.
For the next hour, the two men circled while climbing higher into the sky. When the airplane’s altimeter indicated 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), Lieutenant Wilson stood on his seat, then jumped out of what seemed to be a perfectly good airplane.
Wilson pulled the “rip cord” of his primary parachute, and after what he thought was a very long time, the ‘chute opened, subjecting our intrepid airman to a significant shock.
From that point, Wilson reported that it felt as if he was motionless in the sky. He had no sense of motion. He then fell through an area of severe turbulence. He was thrown in every direction, and, at one point, he and the parachute rolled up and over through a full “loop.” Lt. Wilson was quite nauseous as a result.
The wind tossed him and his frail chute hither and yon, thither and thence, not to mention between and therabouts. He was over, under and parallel with his canvas life saver at various periods.
—AIR SERVICE NEWS LETTER, Vol. IV. No. 26., 10 July 1920, Page 1
Wilson began steering his parachute toward an open area. At approximately 300 feet (91 meters) above the ground, he opened his second parachute in an effort to reduce his rate of descent further before landing. He is reported to have “landed gracefully in a turnip patch.”
The duration of Wilson’s descent was about 17 minutes, and he was blown approximately 18 miles (29 kilometers) away from Kelly Field.
Lieutenant Denton followed Wilson’s parachute in the DH-4B, then landed to pick him up. The pair took off and returned to Kelly Field.
The sealed barographs carried on board the airplane indicated that the actual altitude at which Dynamite Wilson had jumped was 19,861 feet (6,053.6 meters), more than a mile higher than the previous highest parachute jump.
7 June 1919: Numerous sources report that the Baroness de la Roche (née Élisa Léontine Deroche) set a “world record” for women with a Caudron G.3 biplane, sometime during June 1919.
There is considerable variation among these sources, though, with dates variously given as 7 June, 12 June, 17 June, or most often, simply June. And the altitude which she is credited is also confused, varying from 3,900 meters, 4,260 meters, 4,500 meters, 4,785 meters, 4,800 meters, and even 5,150 meters.
The actual facts are uncertain. Mme. Deroche’s flight was not certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
A contemporary source of aviation news reported:
A Women’s Height Record
Flying a small Caudron G.3 biplane, Baroness de la Roche, during a flight which lasted 1 hr. 49 mins., went up to an altitude of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), which is claimed, in Paris, as a woman’s record.
Miss Ruth Law has cabled from New York claiming that in September 1917, she went up to 4,240 metres.
—FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 546, Vol. XI, No. 24, 12 June 1919, Page 780, Column 2
Women’s Height Record
In view of the fact that Miss Ruth Law had claimed to have bettered the performance of Baroness de la Roche the other day, when she flew to a height of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), a new attempt was made on June 12. Starting from Issy on a Caudron biplane, Baroness de la Roche climbed steadily until she reached a height of 4,800 metres (15,840 ft.) Coming down she lost her way in a mist, but eventually landed safely at Gastins, 8 kiloms. from Nangis, after a flight of 2 hrs. 7 mins.
—FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1 and 2
Pushing up World’s Height Record
Not satisfied with his height record of last week Lieut. Casole [sic] on June 14 took his Nieuport up to 10,100 metres (33,330 feet) during a flight from Villacoublay which lasted 1 hr. 55 mins. As in his previous flights, he used a Nieuport, fitted with a 300 h.p. Hispano-Suiza motor. His previous highest was 9,500 metres (31,350 ft.) and not 51,350 ft., as a printer’s error made it appear in our last issue.
—FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1
While Jean Casale’s ¹ record of 9,520 meters (31,234 feet), set 14 June 1919, ² is recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the FAI did not recognize records set by women until 28 June 1929. Neither Mme. Deroche or Miss Law have any records listed in the FAI’s online data base.
The Caudron G.3 is the same type airplane flown by Adrienne Bolland when she crossed the Andes Mountains of South America nearly two years later.
The Caudron G.3 was a World War I reconnaissance airplane and flight trainer manufactured by Société des Avions Caudron. It is called a sesquiplane because the lower wing is significantly shorter than the upper. The G.3 was a single-engine aircraft that was built in single- and two-place variants. The engine and cockpit are contained in a very short fuselage, supporting the wings and landing gear. Tail control surfaces are mounted on an open framework tail boom.
The Caudron G.3 was 6.90 meters (22 feet, 7 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 13.26 meters (43 feet, 6 inches). The height of the aircraft was 2.60 meters (8 feet, 5 inches). The airplane had an empty weight of 420 kilograms (926 pounds) and maximum weight of 736 kilograms (1,623 pounds).
The G.3 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 10.910 liter (665.791 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was rated at 70 cheval vapeur (1 ch = 0.99 horsepower) at 1,100 r.p.m., and 80 cheval vapeur at 1,200 r.p.m., but able to produce a maximum 92 cheval vapeur (90.77 horsepower) at 1,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The 9C was 0.810 meters (2 feet, 7.9 inches) long, 0.930 meters (3 feet, 6.1 inches) in diameter and weighed 119 kilograms (262 pounds).
The Caudron G.3 had a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour) and service ceiling of 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). Its range was 330 kilometers (205 miles).
By the end of World War I, Caudron had built 2,402 G.3s.
Élisa Léontine Deroche was born 22 August 1882 at nº 61, Rue de la Verrerie, in the 4earrondissement, Paris, France. She was the daughter of Charles François Deroche, a plumber, and Christine Calydon Gaillard Deroche. In her early life she had hoped to be a singer, dancer and actress. Mlle. Deroche used the stage name, “Raymonde de Laroche.”
Mlle. Deroche married M. Louis Léopold Thadome in Paris, 4 August 1900. They divorced 28 June 1909.
She had a romantic relationship with sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators, and it was he who inspired her to become a pilot herself. They had a son, André, born in 1909. Delagrange was killed in an airplane accident in 1910. They never married.
After four months of training under M. Chateu, an instructor for Voison, at Chalons, she made her first solo flight on Friday, 22 October 1909. On 8 March 1910, Élisa Léontine Deroche was the first woman to become a licensed pilot when she was issued Pilot License #36 by the Aéro-Club de France.
In a 30 October 1909 article about her solo flight, Flight & The Aircraft Engineer referred to Mme. Deroche as “Baroness de la Roche.” This erroneous title of nobility stayed with her in the public consciousness. Deroche participated in various air meets, and on 25 November 1913, made a non-stop, long-distance flight of four hours duration, for which she was awarded the Coupe Femina by the French magazine, Femina.
On 20 February 1915, Mme. Deroche married Jacques Vial at Meudon, Hauts de Seine, Île-de-France, France.
During World War I she was not allowed to fly so she served as a military driver.
Mme. Deroche was at Le Crotoy in northern France, co-piloting an experimental airplane, a civil variant of the Caudron G.3. The aircraft suddenly pitched down and crashed, killing Deroche and the pilot, M. Barrault. Mme. Deroche was 36 years old. Élisa Léontine Deroche was buried at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France.
¹ Sous Lieutenant Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jerome Casale, Marquis de Montferato
7 June 1912: With Lieutenant Roy Carrington Kirtland flying a Wright Model B at College Park, Maryland, Captain Charles deForest Chandler was the first person to fire a machine gun mounted on an aircraft. The weapon was a prototype designed by Colonel Isaac N. Lewis.
The Lewis Gun was an air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed light machine gun, later produced in calibers .303 British, .30-06 Springfield and 7.92 Mauser by the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Ltd., and the Savage Arms Co. It could fire at a rate of 500–600 rounds per minute. The muzzle velocity was approximately 2,440 feet per second (744 meters per second) and the effective range was 880 yards (805 meters).
Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, was named in honor Colonel Roy Carrington Kirtland, who had retired in 1938 after 40 years of service. Recalled to active duty in 1941, Colonel Kirtland died at Moffet Field, California, 2 May 1941. He was buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.