Tag Archives: Transatlantic Flight

14–18 September 1984

Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. (Joe Kittinger collection)
Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. His deflated Yost GB55 helium balloon lies on the ground. (Joseph W. Kittinger Collection)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)

14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.

Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.

This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.

During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.

Joseph William Kittinger II
Joseph William Kittinger II, 1999. (MSGT Dave Nolan, United States Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048

² FAI Record File Numbers 1013, 1014

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 September 1936

beryl Markham stands at The entrance to the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936.
Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Unattributed)

4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue-and-silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham, serial number K.34, was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.

Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters).

The Vega Gull was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Gypsy Six I weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).

John E. Carberry's brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend.
John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)

John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.

Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”

Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run. Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).

Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, registration VP-KCC, in flight over England, sometime between 15 August–4 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)

From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.

During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.

“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .

“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’

“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.

“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”

 Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morningby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.

The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was briefly knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.

Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.

Beryl Markham's solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Beliene, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.

Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 July 1897–

Amelia Mary Earhart, 1926 (Associated Press)

24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart was born at Atchison, Kansas. She was the older of two daughters of Edwin Stanton Earhart, an attorney, and Amelia Otis Earhart.

Amelia attended Hyde Park School in Chicago, Illinois, graduating in 1916. In 1917, she trained as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross. While helping victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic, she herself contracted the disease and was hospitalized for approximately two months. In 1919 Earhart entered Columbia University studying medicine, but left after about one year.

Red Cross Nurse’s Aide Amelia Mary Earhart, circa 1917–1918. (Amelia Earhart Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)

Amelia first rode in an airplane at Long Beach, California with pilot Frank Monroe Hawks, 28 December 1920. The ten-minute flight began her life long pursuit of aviation. She trained under Mary Anita Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California.

Earhart was the sixteenth woman to become a licensed pilot when she received her certificate from the National Aeronautic Association on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 16 May 1923.

Amelia Earhart’s first pilot’s license. (National Portrait Gallery)

Amelia 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, 17–18 June 1928. 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. (Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience at this time, she did not serve as one of the pilots on this flight.)

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship at Southampton. (Historic Wings)

On 1 May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, issued Transport Pilot’s License No. 5716 to Amelia Mary Earhart. On 25 June 1930, the newly-licensed commercial pilot set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers With a 500 Kilogram Payload, averaging 275.90 kilometers per hour (171.44 miles per hour) with her Lockheed Vega.¹ That same day, she set another World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers of 281.47 kilometers per hour (174.90 miles per hour).² About two weeks later, Earhart increased her Vega’s speed across a shorter, 3 kilometer course, with an average 291.55 kilometers per hour (181.16 miles per hour).³

Amelia Earhart was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization of licensed women pilots. She served as their first president, 1931–1933.

On 7 February 1931, Miss Earhart married George Palmer Putnam in a civil ceremony at Noank, Connecticut. Judge Arthur P. Anderson presided. In a written prenuptial agreement, Miss Earhart expressed serious misgivings about marrying Mr. Putnam, and stated: “. . . I shall not hold you to any midevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.

Amelia Earhart models a women’s flying suit of her own design. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Earhart had her own line of women’s fashions, made from wrinkle-free fabrics. She modeled for her own advertisements. In November 1931, Earhart was the subject of a series of photographs by Edward Steichen for Vogue, an American fashion magazine.

Amelia Earhart photographed for Vogue Magazine by Edward Steichen, November 1931.

At Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931, Amelia Earhart (now, Mrs. George P. Putnam) flew a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro to an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet). Although a sealed barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association for certification of a record, NAA does not presently have any documentation that the record was actually homologated.

On the night of 20–21 May 1932, Amelia Earhart flew her Vega 5B from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, solo and non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean to Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes. On 18 July 1932, Earhart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Herbert Hoover, for “extraordinary achievement in aviation.”

Amelia Earhart with her red and gold Lockheed Vega 5B, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland, after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

Earhart next flew her Vega non-stop from Los Angeles, California, to New York City, New York, 24–25 August 1932, setting an FAI record for distance without landing of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles).⁴ Her Lockheed Vega 5B, which she called her “little red bus,” is displayed in the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

At 4:40 p.m., local time, 11 January 1935, Amelia Earhart departed Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for Oakland Municipal Airport at Oakland, California, in her Lockheed Vega 5C Special, NR965Y. She arrived 18 hours, 15 minutes later. Earhart was the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the Mainland.

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5C, NR965Y, at Wheeler Field, 11 January 1935.(Getty Images/Underwood Archives)

Amelia Earhart is best known for her attempt to fly around the world with navigator Frederick J. Noonan in her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, in 1937. She disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937. The massive search effort for her and her navigator failed, and what happened to her and Noonan remains a mystery.

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra Model 10E Special, NR16020.

Although the exact date of her death is not known, Amelia Mary Earhart (Mrs. George Palmer Putnam) was declared dead in absentia by the Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, 5 January 1939. (Probate file 181709)

George Palmer Putnam leaves the Los Angeles Superior Court after missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart was declared dead in absentia, 5 January 1939. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library.)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14993

² FAI Record File Number 14956

³ FAI Record File Number 12326

⁴ FAI Record File Number 12342

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 July 1919

Airship R 34 over Pulham Airship Station, Norfolk, United Kingdom, 1919.

13 July 1919: The Royal Air Force rigid airship R 34 completed its two-way crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and at 6:57 a.m. landed at Pulham Airship Station, Norfolk, United Kingdom. The airship was under the command of Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., R.A.F. The total complement, including passengers, was 30 persons.

The return flight from Mineola, Long Island, New York took 73 hours, 3 minutes. According to records of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the distance flown by R 34 on the return flight was 6,138 kilometers (3,814 miles).

This was the first “double crossing” by an aircraft. The round trip flight began at East Fortune Airship Station near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 2 July. The East-to-West crossing took 108 hours, 12 minutes.

Major Scott was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

This map shows the outbound and return tracks of His Majesty's Airship R 34, 2–13 July 1919.
This map shows the outbound and return tracks of His Majesty’s Airship R 34, 2–13 July 1919.

During the return flight on of the airship’s five engines suffered a broken connecting rod which damaged the cylinder block. It could not be repaired.

R 34 was based on extensive study of the captured German Zeppelin, L-33. It was built for the Royal Naval Air Service by William Beardmore and Company, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scotland, but with the end of World War I, the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps were merged to become the Royal Air Force. 643 feet long (196 meters), with a maximum diameter of 78 feet, 9 inches (24 meters), the dirigible had a total volume of 1,950,000 cubic feet (55,218 cubic meters). The airship had a light weight metal structure covered with doped fabric. Buoyancy was provided by 55,185 cubic meters (1,948,840 cubic feet) of gaseous hydrogen contained in 19 gas bags inside the airship’s envelope. R 34 had a gross lift capacity of 59 tons. Useful lift was 58,240 pounds (26,417 kilograms).

The airship was powered by five water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 15.395-liter (989.483-cubic-inch-displacement) Sunbeam Maori Mk.IV dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder. The Mk.IV’s cylinder bore had been increased from 100 millimeters to 110 millimeters (3.94 to 4.33 inches), resulting in a larger displacement than previous Maori variants. The Maori Mk.IV was a direct-drive engine which produced 275 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Each engine turned a two-bladed, 17 foot diameter (5.182 meter) propellers through a remote gearbox with a 0.257:1 reduction. The two wing engines were equipped with reversible gearboxes. With the engines turning 1,800 r.p.m., the R 34 had a cruising speed of 47 knots (54 miles per hour/87 kilometers per hour) and consumed 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel per hour.

Airship R 34 landing at Pulham, Norfolk, 13 Juky 1919. (Getty Images/Jimmy Sime)
Airship R 34 landing at Pulham, Norfolk, 13 July 1919. (Getty Images/Jimmy Sime)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2–6 July 1919

The Royal Air Force rigid airship HMA R34 landing at Mineola, Long Island, New York, 6 July 1919.

2–6 July 1919: Two weeks after Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic airplane flight, the Royal Air Force rigid airship R 34 landed at Mineola, Long Island, New York, completing the first East-to-West Atlantic crossing by air. The airship was under the command of Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., R.A.F. The total complement, including passengers, was 30 persons.

The 108 hour, 12 minute flight started from East Fortune Airship Station near Edinburgh, Scotland at 2:38 a.m., British Summer Time (1:38 a.m., Greenwich mean time) on Wednesday, 2 July. R 34 arrived at Mineola at 9:54 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time (1:54 p.m. G.M.T.) on Sunday, 6 July. According to records of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the distance flown by R 34 was 5,797 kilometers (3,602 miles). On arrival, the airship had only 40 minutes of fuel remaining.

This chart of R34's flight was published in the Times, 7 July 1919.
This chart of R34’s flight was published in The Times, 7 July 1919.

R34 was based on extensive study of the captured German Zeppelin, L-33. It was built for the Royal Naval Air Service by William Beardmore and Company, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scotland, but with the end of World War I, the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps were merged to become the Royal Air Force. 643 feet long (196 meters), with a maximum diameter of 78 feet, 9 inches (24 meters), the dirigible had a total volume of 1,950,000 cubic feet (55,218 cubic meters). The airship had a light weight metal structure covered with doped fabric. Buoyancy was provided by 55,185 cubic meters (1,948,840 cubic feet) of gaseous hydrogen contained in 19 gas bags inside the airship’s envelope. R 34 had a gross lift capacity of 59 tons. Useful lift was 58,240 pounds (26,417 kilograms).

The airship was powered by five water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 15.395-liter (989.483-cubic-inch-displacement) Sunbeam Maori Mk.IV dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder. The Mk.IV’s cylinder bore had been increased from 100 millimeters to 110 millimeters (3.94 to 4.33 inches), resulting in a larger displacement than previous Maori variants. The Maori Mk.IV was a direct-drive engine which produced 275 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Each engine turned a two-bladed, 17 foot diameter (5.182 meter) propellers through a remote gearbox with a 0.257:1 reduction. The two wing engines were equipped with reversible gearboxes. With the engines turning 1,800 r.p.m., the R 34 had a cruising speed of 47 knots (54 miles per hour/87 kilometers per hour) and consumed 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel per hour.

Crewmen working in the forward control car of R34 during the Atlantic crossing, July 1918. (National Museums Scotland)
Crewmen working in the forward control car of R 34 during the Atlantic crossing, July 1918. (National Museums Scotland)

R 34 made the return flight to England, 10–13 July 1919, in 75 hours, 3 minutes.

Major Scott was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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